Two-way real-time communication brings Bluetooth and robotics applications closer.
Bluetooth™ was intended to allow consumer electronics, computers, and peripheral devices to exchange information wirelessly. Researchers from Murata Manufacturing Co., based in Naga-okakyo, Kyoto Prefecture, and the Tokyo-based Kitano Symbiotic Systems Project, funded by the governmental Japan Science and Technology Corp., have teamed up to show that Bluetooth could have uses in robotics as well.
Previously, signals to control mobile robots have been transmitted via radio systems similar to those used in model cars, infrared rays, or hard wires, all of which have big disadvantages. Radio control systems have limited data transmission capacities. Infrared requires a clear line-of-sight. And wires restrict movement. With full duplex data transmission at 720 kbps, Bluetooth could allow robots to be remotely controlled in real time while sending video images or sensor data to an operator, an advantage as mobile robots are envisioned for dangerous search and rescue operations.
For this test application, Murata developed compact Bluetooth host-controller and transmitting/receiving modules. Both were fabricated using Murata's low-temperature cofired ceramics (LTCC) technique, which allows for the use of copper electrodes and circuits in a multi-layered ceramic stack. Copper provides excellent high-frequency characteristics and cost effectiveness, but needs to be processed at temperatures lower than those for conventional ceramic substrates. The Bluetooth unit was built into a prototype humanoid robot, called a morph, being developed by the Kitano Symbiotic Systems Project. The morph is 34 cm tall, weighs approximately 2 kg, and has 26° of freedom. Following instructions delivered via Bluetooth, it curls its body into a ball by tucking its legs up, bending at the waist, and wrapping its arms around its legs, among other tricks.
Kazuhisa Mashita, a spokesman for Murata, says, "The most significant feature (of using Bluetooth) is that signals can be sent both ways between the operator and the robot." Hiroaki Kitano, director of the morph project, is also one of the driving forces behind the Robocup robotic soccer tournaments. Kitano is interested in Bluetooth because it could allow robotic soccer players to communicate on the field, taking Robocup action to a new level of technological sophistication with greater actual teamwork.
For more information: Murata Manufacturing Co., Business Planning Group www.murata-northamercia.com, or enter 548
Citizen Watch Co. and IBM Japan Ltd. have jointly developed a prototype wristwatch with personal digital assistant functions that can exchange schedule and contact information and e-mail with a personal computer, cell phone, or other devices using Bluetooth. Citizen has a long history of cramming watches full of additional functions, and adding Bluetooth was a logical next step. The WatchPad has a touch panel and a roller wheel for user input. It also has a small microphone and speaker.
The device could be used as a stand-alone wristwatch and PDA. But the companies envision it especially useful for communicating with other Bluetooth-enabled devices. In addition to synchronizing PDA data with a computer or other PDA device, the watch could serve as a universal remote controller, sending commands to a TV or stereo, or controlling a PowerPoint presentation. The present prototype doesn't have the processing power to handle voice recognition, but it could serve as the front-end for a host computer having voice recognition capabilities with voice signals transmitted by Bluetooth.
Developers also envision the watch for proposed schemes to use Bluetooth to broadcast information in particular settings, such as flight information in an airport or listings of restaurants and shops in a mall. The watch also has a fingerprint sensor, which allows its use in security systems and for personal identification for such applications as automated check-in at hotels and airports. They also adopted Linux version 2.4 to show that Linux can serve as the operating system for small, smart gadgets.
Citizen spokesman Toshihito Miyazawa says the challenge in developing the device was in shrinking the components. But Citizen has a long history of miniaturizing parts for watches. He admits they went beyond what is likely to ever be included in one device, having both Bluetooth and infrared data transmission capabilities, for example. But Miyazawa says, "We tried to include every imaginable function so we can identify improvements." Certainly some of these capabilities will appear in future products, but Miyazawa says commercialization plans have not yet been decided.
For more information: WatchPad home page: www.trl.ibm.com/projects/ngm/, or enter 549
Bluetooth will catch on more quickly if Bluetooth capabilities can be extended to older devices. Mitsumi Electric Co., Tokyo, is trying to fill this need with a Bluetooth adapter that plugs into universal serial bus (USB) ports, allowing older computers to wirelessly exchange data with new Blue-tooth-equipped printers, personal digital assistants, and other devices.
Mitsumi developed a one-chip Bluetooth solution for sale to device makers and is looking for niche applications it can tackle on its own. The CMOS chip has an integrated radio-frequency transceiver and only needs an antenna to be complete. The chip was intended to be adapted for portable gadgets, but engineers realized the compact size would also be suitable for an adapter for older computers. They decided to take advantage of the ability of USB hubs to supply power in order to keep the adapter simple. The resulting package is 60.2 × 19.4 × 7.8 mm and weighs only 9g. It works with PCs equipped with an Intel 300-MHz or faster processor running Windows 98 or later. The adapter is on sale in Japan now with a list price of US $230.
For more information: Mitsumi Electric Co., www.mitsumi.co.jp, or enter 550
Toshiba Corp., Tokyo, has put Bluetooth and voice recognition technologies together in a wireless headset that enables users to control consumer electronics, appliances, and personal computers via spoken commands while listening to music or the audio from TV.
To do this, Toshiba engineers packed a CPU, Bluetooth chipset, memory, an antenna, and a lithium ion battery into a headset with stereo earphones and a microphone, and kept the package under 100 grams. The built-in speech recognition engine can recognize about 100 commands that are converted into signals sent to appliances, which must themselves be equipped with Bluetooth receivers and the appropriate software.
Since Bluetooth enables two-way communications, Toshiba envisions this head-set appealing to the multi-tasking generation, who could use it to listen to audio signals broadcast from a PC, TV, or video game without being tethered to the appliance by a cable. Then, while doing housework or homework, the user could verbally instruct the TV to switch channels or turn up the volume, for example, or turn an air conditioner on or off without having to go near the device or pick-up a dedicated remote controller.
Toshiba thinks the headset will also prove useful for the handicapped, and will find applications in factory automation. The audio guide systems are increasingly popular in museums, and by doctors in hospitals to record patient data. Toshiba spokesperson Midori Suzuki says the biggest developmental challenge has been getting the speech recognition engine to distinguish between the commands intended for different appliances. Toshiba plans to market the headset within the year.
For more information: Toshiba Corp., www.toshiba.co.jp, or enter 551
Bluetooth-enabled PDAs give train passengers access to broadcast news.
Most companies are looking to Bluetooth to extend the capabilities of electronics gadgets. A trio of companies in Japan thinks Bluetooth could set the stage for new services. Nippon Ericsson (the local subsidiary of Sweden's LM Ericsson), Handspring KK (a subsidiary of Mountain View CA-based Handspring Inc.), and Marubeni Corp. (Tokyo), are jointly carrying out what they call the Bluetooth Launch Trial Project to test Bluetooth for delivering news and information within specific locations, such as stores, restaurants, and train cars.
The location must be equipped with what the backers call a Bluetooth Local Infotainment Point—a local server, and one or more Bluetooth transceivers. Customers must have a Bluetooth-equipped device, such as a notebook computer or a personal digital assistant (PDA), to access the broadcast information. In the case of the train, for example, one car of one of Japan's Bullet Trains was equipped with the servers, and passengers could bor- row Bluetooth-enabled PDAs for access to news stories, weather reports, information on their destination, train schedules, and menus for the box lunches and refreshments sold on the train. There were also a number of short general-interest video presentations on topics such as fashion, hobbies, and outdoor life. At the stores and restaurants where trials were carried out, users could connect to the Internet through the Bluetooth connection, although that capability was not feasible on the train.
Ericsson spokesperson Hiroshi Suzuki says they are pleased with the way the trials went and are studying the possibilities for commercializing such a service. After the trial on the Bullet Train, Shojiro Nanya, president of West Japan Railway Co., said the company sees such a service making rail travel more appealing. "We recognize that our customers need access to information even when they are traveling," he said. He added that the company would like to introduce such a service permanently, though he did not give a date for doing so.
For more information: Nippon Ericsson, www.ericsson.co.jp, or enter 552
Consumers have been snapping up digital cameras and digital video recorders at least partly be-cause of the ease of sharing images with friends and family via e-mail. Product planners at Sony realized Bluetooth would make transferring images to a PC simpler.
But they went a step further, giving the company's new DCR-IP55 digital movie camera not only Bluetooth, but the ability to connect directly to the Internet without having to use a PC.
Saori Takahashi, a Sony spokesperson, says adding Bluetooth to digital cameras is an obvious advance in user friendliness. Bluetooth "makes it easy to send image data to a PC," she says. Because many older computers don't have Bluetooth, they also included a USB connection. Images can also be transferred to other devices using Sony's MemoryStick flash memory device.
But Takahashi says the company realized that, for many people, transferring the images to a PC is just the first step towards e-mailing them or uploading them to an Internet page. So Sony built in the ability to connect to a mobile phone or a special modem adapter that enables wireless connection to the Internet. Simplified software allows images to be attached to e-mail messages or uploaded to web pages. There is even an elementary web browser for viewing Internet pages on the device's 6-mm LCD screen.
The digital movie camera records moving images in MPEG2 format, and all controls are done using the touch-sensitive LCD screen. Showing off Sony's skills in miniaturization, Takahashi boasts that the camera body is 30% smaller than previous models and, at the time of the launch, was the smallest such camera on the market.
For more information: www.sony.jp/products/Bluetooth, or enter 553
For more information about Bluetooth technology, visit www.bluetooth.com.