Bluetooth Thingies at Maker Faire

In case you haven’t noticed, one of the more popular themes for new dev boards is Bluetooth. Slap a Bluetooth 4.0 module on a board, and you really have something: just about every phone out there has it, and the Low Energy label is great for battery-powered Internets of Things.

Most of these boards fall a little short. It’s one thing to throw a Bluetooth module on a board, but building the software to interact with this board is another matter entirely. Revealing Hour Creations is bucking that trend with their Tah board. Basically, it’s your standard Arduino compatible board with a btle module. What they’ve done is add the software for iOS and Android that makes building stuff easy.

Putting Bluetooth on a single board is one thing, but how about putting Bluetooth on everything. SAM Labs showed off their system of things at Maker Faire with LEDs, buttons, fans, motors, sensors, and just about every electrical component you can imagine.

All of these little boards come with a Bluetooth module and a battery. The software for the system is a graphical interface that allows you to draw virtual wires between everything. Connect a button to a LED in the software, and the LED will light up when the button is pressed. Move your mouse around the computer, and the button will turn on a motor when it’s pressed.

There are a few APIs that also come packaged into the programming environment – at the booth, you could open a fridge (filled with cool drinks that didn’t cost five dollars, a surprise for the faire) and it would post a tweet.

14 thoughts on “Bluetooth Thingies at Maker Faire

  1. The software they’re working on looks good, but that’s where it ends.
    The background music in the video is distracting from the product info (minor gripe).
    The $49 is much too expensive for ubiquitous use.
    The board design has the pcb antenna for the btle module UNDER the PCB and under the MCU.
    It looks like they’re using the same MCU as the leonardo, so using the same pinout as a Pro micro would make a lot more sense.
    There’s a few nrf24l01 compatible gfsk modules available now that can do large packets (for example 255 bytes for the Beken 2423), so a bit-bang full btle stack is feasible with these cheap (<$1) modules.

    I'd even dump the USB interface & go with over-the-air bootloading.
    http://ncrmnt.org/wp/2014/02/27/rf24boot-a-universal-over-the-air-bootloader-for-all-those-ucs/

    1. The USB interface allows us to do apps like this : https://github.com/tah-io/iOS/tree/master/GBox%20
      Which allows us to basically plug this into a PS3 and then use the smartphone as the controller. https://cloud.githubusercontent.com/assets/969376/4436931/46795928-4787-11e4-8b7d-f230b301b6d0.png

      Having a Pro micro type layout didn’t let us have the onboard PCB which is kind of essential for this kind of application.
      Also, over the air interface is awesome for something like spark core, but I am not sure how useful it is for something like bluetooth in which you have to be around to do that anyways.
      Having said that, we are definitely looking into how we can get that incorporated.
      Also, I do agree that 49 is too much if we are doing just one app to control the pins. We are doing a bunch, and plan to keep on doing so. https://github.com/tah-io/iOS
      Thanks for the feedback though, helps us a lot

  2. SAM what an amazing concept. I had no idea that charging every single device is actually easier than having a few wires. And I wish I had understood what TAH was all about; it seemed to require a desktop.

  3. Why not one of the growing number of cheaper mbed supported nRF51822 boards? mbed support for nRF51822 OTA flashing is just around the corner, with preliminary code going into master a few days ago. Apps already exist for Nordic OTA DFU for Android and iOS, and the mbed web IDE should work in any browser (have personally used it on Android and it’s fast).

    Not to dump on this project, but it’s not as novel as Brian makes it out to be.

  4. There is one thing i really hate about all of this bluetooth arduino stuff. When you connect your custom device to your smartphone it behaves like bluetooth serial port. However in fact it’s not “bluetooth serial port” it’s more like “bluetooth RGB led” or “bluetooth thermometer”, etc… so you have to manually tell the phone which device is what…

    Imagine that you plug USB soundcard into PC… It just works. If you will try to do something simillar using serial/bluetooth modules you will have to explicitely tell the PC “no, this is not USB serial port, this is not USB keyboard, this is not USB flashdrive, this is not USB mouse, THIS IS USB SOUNDCARD”. It really sux, it’s not very plug’n’play.

    You can work around this by using proper USB device class or bluetooth profile, however this is quite hard to implement for hobbyist. (Partially because of this: http://www.arachnidlabs.com/blog/2013/10/18/usb-if-no-vid-for-open-source/ )

  5. There is also one thing i realy hate about this BT or WIFI based internet of things. Isn’t it pointless to use BT which is has a range of just a few meters for home automation as soon as you are in range you can just use the switch.
    There already a bunch of RF chips which are arduino compatible for just a few bugs.
    Add encryption to the rf lib and you are absolutely safe, have a great operation range and be quite affordable.
    What is the point in using BT or WiFi. As soon as you have more than just 2 “things” you won’t use them directly with your smartphone but rather collect their data and use them via a server application or common frontend or a home automation server

    Am i missing something or is this just about jumping on the “hype train”`?

    1. There are BT dongles that do about 10 or 20 or 100meters/yard. But I don’t know what this has as a range. My point though is that it is possible to use BT over some distance.

      And incidentally, BT4.0 is basically BT over wifi.

  6. Everything has its use. Bluetooth 4.0 (and in particular,
    BLE) happens to be available on smart devices these days. You don’t need a 1KM range on a wireless window blind device any more than you would want only a 10ft range on a Quadcopter.

    For those of you complaining about the price, jeep in mind: having stuff built off shore has spoiled a lot of us. We can’t all live off of $1 a day.

    1. It’s a pity that all android and iOS devices happen to be spying on you and so are not an option for people who don’t like that shit.

      I’m still waiting for some alternative to become available. I was temporarily encouraged by the mozilla efforts, but mozilla has turned creepy too I fear and by the time they have a decent stable platform it’ll be connected to 5 unpleasant orgs at least. including google/NSA.

  7. These guys were set up next to me at the Orlando Maker Faire. I liked their product and while there are cheaper alternatives, their coding efforts make this a great product for people new to BLE or microcontrollers in general. The cool thing for me was that they just seemed like a couple of geeks stoked to be in America surrounded by a bunch of other geeks.

  8. Sorry we missed you, I was in the Atmel/Arduino tent with a 3D printed Bluetooth Car Kit to help kids get started in Arduino. I’m building a webiste about it now…kittronic.com

    Hopefully, you’ll be back next year! See you then. :)

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