Archos turns to Bluetooth Low Energy to monitor activities in the home

A tablet linked to a range of sensors and control devices allows the programming of simple home monitoring and automation scenarios

Part of the Archos smart home range, the Weathertag reports temperature and humidity over a Bluetooth LE connection, while the Motiontag will report if it is moved.

Part of the Archos smart home range, the Weathertag reports temperature and humidity over a Bluetooth LE connection, while the Motiontag will report if it is moved.

French tablet maker Archos is using a tweaked version of Bluetooth Low Energy to monitor and control smart devices around the home.

The range of products shown at Mobile World Congress, including cameras, weather stations, movement detectors, door and window sensors and power switches, will go on sale in April.

Bluetooth LE is better suited for home monitoring than earlier versions of Bluetooth because devices remain in sleep mode most of the time, only waking up when contacted. Using Bluetooth LE, sensors can run on lithium button cells for up to two years, Archos marketing director Bénédicte Ernoult said at the show.

Nevertheless, it does have some shortcomings: Its range is insufficient to cover a typical house and a Bluetooth LE host can typically only maintain communications with three or four other devices, she said. To solve those problems, the Android tablet at the hub of the Archos smart-home system has a special antenna taking the range to 20 meters and a tweaked software stack allowing it to communicate with up to 32 devices simultaneously.

An app on the Smart Home Tablet shows the current status and the history of each sensor on a tile, with the tiles grouped by room, one room to a page. Thus, with the appropriate sensors, it's possible to see at a glance who was the last to enter a room, the temperature there, and whether they left a window open. Through the app it is also possible to program alerts or actions according to simple scenarios. For instance, if a door is opened between midnight and 6 a.m. it would then turn on a light, take a picture, or send an alert to a smartphone.

The Motion Ball and the Mini Cam are spheres about 40 millimeters in diameter and weigh around 50 grams. They sit in a magnetic cradle, allowing them to be oriented in any direction. A self-adhesive pad attaches the cradle to the wall or other surface. They each require three LR2540 coin cells to operate.

The Weather Tag and Movement Tag are flat and square-like in shape, measuring about 36 millimeters by 36 mm by 15 mm and weighing 16 grams. The Weather Tag monitors temperature and humidity, while the door sensor contains an accelerometer and can also detect the presence of an accompanying magnet, allowing it to detect the movement of windows, doors and drawers.

The tablet has a backup battery so it can be moved around a home. It runs Android 4.2.2, "Jelly Bean," and can also serve as a home media center connecting to other displays wirelessly for the playback of video and audio, or for video calls with its own 0.3-megapixel camera.

Archos plans to offer an introductory pack containing the tablet, two cameras, two weather monitors and two movement detectors for around €199 (US$275).

The range also includes a smart power switch, which can report power consumption, and control loads up to 3.5 kW. It leeches power for its Bluetooth transmitter from the mains electrical supply.

Although it would have made a useful addition to the pack, the need for different plugs for each country would have complicated distribution, so it will be offered separately, Ernoult said. That answer seemed to satisfy potential distributors visiting the Archos stand and didn't stop them inventing scenarios in which the smart switch could be used to detect freezer failures or more widespread power outages, sending an alert to the owner's smartphone via the hub before its battery went flat.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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