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The new direction feature of Bluetooth allows devices to locate items down to the centimeter level in settings including museums, retail stores, and the home. (Bluetooth SIG Photo)

The group responsible for Bluetooth introduced a new feature that gives the widely used wireless technology the ability to sense not just the proximity of a nearby object but also its direction in relation to another device receiving or sending a signal.

The new direction-finding feature, released by the Kirkland, Wash.-based Bluetooth Special Interest Group as part of the new Bluetooth Core Specification 5.1, promises to make it easier to locate objects in a variety of settings, ranging from museum exhibits to the key ring under the couch cushion. The release Monday means that developers and device makers will be able to start incorporating the technology into their devices.

Devices that use the feature will be able to determine location “down to centimeter-level” because of the new capability, the group says.

Existing versions of Bluetooth provide location services but measure signal strength and often rely on fixed locator beacons and receivers in settings such as museums and warehouses to estimate the location of an object. The new trick is the ability to also determine the angle at which a Bluetooth signal enters and leaves a device.

Credit: Bluetooth Special Interest Group

Here’s how the Bluetooth SIG lays out the possibilities in a white paper about the new feature.

Item Finding Solutions – Should smartphone vendors choose to include Bluetooth direction finding with AoA support in their products, item finding solutions could be enhanced to provide directional information. With direction finding support, in addition to identifying how close a misplaced item is, an item finding application on a smartphone could also determine the item’s direction, improving the user experience.

[Point of Interest] Information Solutions – PoI information solutions could also benefit from direction finding with AoA being added to smartphones. Imagine a room in a museum with multiple exhibits that have associated beacons. With direction finding support, a PoI information application on a smartphone could not only inform a user of all the exhibits in the room and allow them to select one to receive additional information, but the user could simply point their smartphone at a specific exhibit to get more information on that item.

[Real-Time Location System] Solutions – By implementing direction finding, RTLS solutions could improve location accuracy down to centimeter-level, depending on deployment considerations. By deploying a RTLS solution with direction finding support, a factory could track the location and flow of materials with greater precision, as well as track and alert workers before they go into unsafe work areas.

[Indoor Positioning System] Solutions – IPS solutions with direction finding support deployed in hospitals or shopping malls could provide even greater positioning accuracy to improve the navigation experience or require the deployment of fewer locator beacons.

The Bluetooth SIG says nearly 4 billion devices will ship this year with Bluetooth wireless technology built in. Based on past history with Bluetooth feature rollouts, the group says commercial products that include the new directional technology could be available starting later this year.

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