Bluetooth devices stop working as soon as you walk away from them. But what if they didn't? What if you could control a Bluetooth speaker from any corner of your home without getting disconnected? Or what if you could open a Bluetooth door lock even when you're on vacation?
An interesting but convoluted dream for upgrading Bluetooth
Cassia is trying to make that possible. Its first product is called the Cassia Hub, and it's supposed to give you control over an entire home's worth of Bluetooth products no matter where you are, all without making changes to your existing devices.
The idea is pretty compelling, but the reality is a bit more complicated. In theory, Cassia lets you create a smart home filled with the dozens of Bluetooth objects you might already own: speakers, cameras, fitness trackers, monitoring devices, and whatever else. You could control all of them through Cassia's app, and even automate things so that music turns on when you come home, the doors lock at night, and so on. Not a bad plan since so many of our devices already speak Bluetooth.
The reality is a bit more muddled. When you're home, you can control any product in range of the Cassia hub. But once you're out of the house, you'll likely lose control over most of them. Cassia says that 70 percent of Bluetooth devices have custom profiles — meaning that they aren't communicating in a standardized language — so you won't be able to control them from afar. Even inside your house, you'll have to dig into dedicated apps to control those customized devices. Basics like speakers, however, should work fine through Cassia's app and therefore be eligible for automation.
Cassia wants Bluetooth to become the standard for IOT devices
To even get that far, Cassia has to do some interesting things so that its hub can get around Bluetooth's limitations. Bluetooth isn't supposed to travel much more than 30 feet, so the hub searches for Bluetooth signals with an increased sensitivity, allowing it to connect with devices much farther away. In doing that, Cassia also had to develop an algorithm to filter out noise, so that it only gets the signals it's looking for. Cassia says it should be able to reach through 1,000 feet in open space, or throughout a typical house. During a brief demo, I was only able to test the connection two rooms away before an elevator bank stopped me, so I can't say how those claims hold up. Bluetooth devices also don't typically connect to the internet, so the hub connects over Wi-Fi to your existing router to let you connect remotely. Up to 22 devices can be controlled at once.
Cassia is building this because it believes Bluetooth is perfectly situated to become the standard for the smart home: it's low power, and it's already in wide use. But, obviously, Bluetooth isn't that standard, as is evident by Cassia's need to work around all of these limitations, which were built into Bluetooth by choice.
Then there's the question of whether it makes sense to even build this hub right now. The Bluetooth standard is going to make some big changes this year: most notably, it's going to add mesh networking, which would allow Bluetooth devices to pass along each others' communications, therefore extending their range. That means down the road, your Bluetooth devices may stay connected throughout your home all on their own. Bluetooth devices are also supposed to start traveling farther on their own, and at faster speeds.
Cassia's hub will be sold for $99.99, with shipments starting sometime in the next few months. Working with existing devices and a popular standard is a smart way into the smart home, but it sounds like it might not get past all of Bluetooth's limitations. And anyway, Bluetooth might do some of that on its own.