Bluetooth: Clever tech will invade our homes...

Think Bluetooth is for geeks? Think again. Tesco is doing it, so is Electrolux and if you've got a load of spaghetti behind your stereo, look forward to better days...

Washing machine, fridge freezer and HiFi manufacturers have joined mobile phone and notebook computer makers in developing Bluetooth-enabled prototype products, amid scepticism that the standard will not work in the real world.

While all the Bluetooth founding members have demonstrated products in the US and at this year's CeBIT, companies from other industries have been slow to reveal what they are developing, at least until now. There is also growing scepticism that Bluetooth won't deliver on a large scale, prompted largely by the niche status the technology took at this year's CeBIT exhibition in Germany.

Devoted exhibition and demonstration space was very limited, while staff on the stands of even the founding members were not clued-up on the technology. "When questioned about Bluetooth, IBM's staff gave blank looks," said Nick Hunn, TDK's technical guru and head of Bluetooth development. "There were some good demos at CeBIT, particularly by Ericsson. In fact, one could have been forgiven for thinking Ericsson was Bluetooth because it was the only one that gave it sizeable coverage."

Despite the short falls of CeBIT the technology is gaining momentum, within as well as outside of the IT industry. HiFi specialists Bang and Olufson has admitted it has a Bluetooth enabled stereo in the laboratory with a view to removing the "spaghetti" from the back of the unit. This would mean that speakers would not be limited by the length of their connecting cable and could be placed anywhere within the nominal link range of 10 centimetres to 10 meters, although this can be extended to more than 100 meters by increasing the transmit power.

Washing machine maker Merloni is also working on a product that contains a Bluetooth RF transmitter to keep in touch with its service status. One version even has a GSM phone to summon the service centre when its performance degrades or it breaks down.

Electrolux has already developed a fridge with an in-built ICL Pentium PC in the door, which consists of a touch screen and bar code scanner. As you load your shopping you scan the codes, and do the same as you take things out again. This enables the on-board computer to keep a running tally of the contents and phone up your local Internet connected supermarket as soon as you get too low on goods. All it needs is a Bluetooth transmitter to go with your Bluetooth PSTN access point and your fridge will always be well stocked.

Tesco is experimenting with a computerised shopping trolley that lets you swipe your loyalty card through a display. Your identity is then radioed back to the central computer using Bluetooth transmitters, which decides what your buying preferences are and guides you round the store, pointing out special offers that will appeal to you based on your past shopping history.

Take me to the Bluetooth special.

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