well lit home at dusk
Dariusz Jarzabek

Bluetooth 5.1 lets devices track each other down to the centimeter. But Bluetooth 5.1 isn’t just for finding your keys—this precise position tracking will let your smarthome know who you are and where you are in your home.

Your Smarthome Doesn’t Know Where You Are

Smarthomes are great for automating lights, climate control, or your coffee maker on a schedule, but they don’t act according to your general behavior. That’s because smarthomes are all based on schedules and commands and, for the most part, lack presence detection. Your home doesn’t know your precise location; it’s not aware of what room you spent the most time in, and without that, it can’t do things for you. At best it can do things at your command (even if it’s a scheduled command).

If you’re outside your home, the problem only gets worse. When you leave or arrive, any knowledge of your presence relies on geofencing. But geofencing can be inaccurate and trigger too late, too early, or worst of all when you’re aren’t near home at all. That last possibility is why many smart devices restrict their capabilities with geofencing; most smart locks won’t unlock a door based on geofencing for instance.

RELATED: Bluetooth 5.1: What's New and Why It Matters

Bluetooth 5.1 Could Make Your Smarthome Smarter

Currently, Bluetooth isn’t very good for finding and locating things (or people). It can help you find the room an object is in, but it won’t narrow the location down any more than that, which is why tracking devices like Tile and Trackr have audible alarms built into them. But the Bluetooth SIG has introduced version 5.1, which dramatically improves location awareness. A Bluetooth 5.1 connection allows for both directional pointing and positional locating down to the centimeter. This means you would know exactly where in a room an object is and in what direction. Or, if you happen to be carrying a Bluetooth 5.1 tag or phone, your smarthome could know exactly where you are and in what direction you are moving.

Bluetooth 5.1 isn’t just for finding your stuff; it could be the future of the smarthome.

Your Music Could Follow You Through the Home

If you start a song on a smart speaker in your living room and then need to go to the kitchen to get a drink, you can’t take your music with you—not without headphones, at least. The closest option is multi-room audio, but playing music throughout your home isn’t always what you want. If you’re home alone, you don’t need your music playing in the far corners of the house. But if your smarthome could follow your path from the living room to the kitchen and back your music could move with you with a graceful handoff from speaker to speaker. Or if you prefer, your music could stop or pause because you left the room.

Lights Could Be On Only in the Rooms You’re Using

Movie Night Home Theater Lounge
ShayeRyan

Similarly, as you step into a closet or bathroom, your home could detect you and turn on the lights for you. Late at night, this would negate the need to fumble for a light switch or pull chain. When you leave the closet or bathroom, the lights could turn off. As you walk through your home, your lights could follow. If someone else is already present, the lights can stay on as you leave.

Your preferred scenes, colors, and brightness levels could launch automatically when you arrive home, or enter a room. As you sit down on the couch to watch TV, the smarthome (with its ability to detect your location and direction to the centimeter) could realize where you are, that you are facing the TV, and automatically power up your electronics while turning down the lights.

Smarter Heating and Cooling

Automatic room-to-room presence control can go beyond lights and music as well. With better presence detection, your home could more accurately turn off the heat or AC when you leave for work. As you step into your bedroom on a bright sunny day, it could forgo the lights and automatically raise the shades for you, letting in natural sunshine. Knowing that you are in the study, your climate control could continue heating even if the thermostat would usually detect you are away and go into eco mode.

This same method of room control applies to devices connected to smart plugs, like portable heaters or dehumidifiers.

Your Wi-Fi And Voice Assistant Could Be Smarter, Too

An Amazon Echo and an Google Home side by side

Mesh networks are becoming more common, especially in larger homes. They work off the idea of joining together several wi-fi extenders and intelligently handing off one device to another without the need for additional passwords. But with presence detection, your mesh network could prioritize the closest router to you. By giving higher priority, you should enjoy better speed and a more reliable connection on all your devices.

Voice assistants would also benefit in having a better idea of who you are. Currently, both Alexa and Google Home support multiple user profiles and try to differentiate based on your voice, but this isn’t always reliable. And that leaves the annoyance of having to explicitly switch profiles before you can access your music and your routines.

But with a Bluetooth 5.1 connection, your voice assistant would have an extra data point to match up physically with you; it could compare the data it has on the direction of your voice with the information it has on the direction of your Bluetooth connection. This information would make for a more reliable experience in differentiating you from other users in your home.

Today’s Presence Detection Isn’t as Good

Artist rendering of smarthome automation control system
Alexander Supertramp/Shutterstock

You can accomplish some of this now, but the solutions often leave something to be desired. Motion detectors can’t tell the difference between a human and a pet, nor can they understand the difference between you and the other people in your home. Cameras can tell the difference, but that involves facial recognition, which may raise some privacy concerns. Geofencing is limited to arrival and departure and can be unreliable.

What About Guests and Privacy?

The one downside to this suggestion is that you’d need to carry something to make this all work. That could you be your Bluetooth 5.1 enabled phone (and possibly an app), or it could be a tag, similar to what Tile or Trackr offer. If you forget the device at work or leave it in another room, the smarthome won’t know where you are. And the only way to offer this to guests in your home would be to give them a Bluetooth tag or set up their phone to connect to your smart home system.

Not everyone is going to want to carry one of these tags or install an app, and that may even apply to the people who live in your home. Some privacy implications will need to be thought through as well. While you could be talking to your smarthome less, it won’t completely replace always listening devices like Alexa and Google Home. And you’ll be potentially letting Amazon, Google, and other smarthome device makers know more about where you are in the home, and what rooms you frequent the most.

Like most smarthome tech, convenience and privacy are a balancing act, so this won’t be for everyone. But better presence detection is a crucial missing component to smarthomes now, and Bluetooth 5.1 could be the means to unlocking a smarter home.

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code.
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