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Q&A - Martin Woolley, technical programme manager, Bluetooth SIG

August 23, 2017 by John Hatcher
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Q&A - Martin Woolley, technical programme manager, Bluetooth SIG

Martin Woolley is a mobile applications and technology specialist with over 30 years’ experience in software development. Martin is Bluetooth SIG's technical programme manager for EMEA and is responsible for informing, educating and supporting developers. He was a key part of the BBC micro:bit team and designed it’s Bluetooth profile.

How has Bluetooth become involved in the Smart Buildings industry?
We recently released a new Bluetooth technology called Bluetooth mesh networking. It’s designed for all sorts of applications but if there was one area which influenced and informed its design the most, it’s Smart Buildings. Bluetooth mesh was designed to solve some quite tough wireless technology problems to do with reliability and security at a large scale, in applications like smart commercial lighting systems and building automation.
What excites you about the Smart Buildings industry?
I like to see technology having real, tangible and measurable benefits. The Smart Buildings industry is about that and more. I see Bluetooth mesh networking helping the Smart Buildings industry to create sophisticated automation solutions, with sensors and other systems working together, achieving real cost savings, improving the work place for people and having environmental benefits. It makes perfect sense to me that companies would want to invest in Smart Building technology because there’s a convincing business case to be made.
Are there any particular technologies that we should be aware of, but are currently under the radar?
Energy Harvesting is an important topic to keep an eye on. Advanced “smartness” in contexts like buildings will ultimately come from the analysis of data and the application of intelligence to it. Much of that data will come from sensors and to provide a rich, multi-faceted data description of a building, we’ll need a lot of sensors, measuring many aspects of the environment. Those sensors will often be in hard to access or even dangerous places. Getting power to them may be a challenge and changing batteries regularly, not feasible. So, energy harvesting techniques, which can generate electrical current from ambient light, temperature changes or vibration for example, enough to operate a sensor and then use Bluetooth Low Energy (LE), a super-efficient wireless communications technology to transmit data for collection and analysis is where I see the future.
What services does your company offer?
We’re a standards organisation with just over 32,000 companies who are members of the Bluetooth SIG and supporters of Bluetooth technology. Our role is to facilitate the advancement of Bluetooth with our members, to manage the technical specification process and to assure interoperability between manufacturers of Bluetooth products.
What are the benefits of integrating Bluetooth technologies to a smart building?
Wireless commercial lighting systems are cheaper to install than wired ones and much easier to modify in response to the inevitable changes that take place in today’s fast paced business environment.
Bluetooth mesh lights and sensors can communicate directly without the need for additional controller units, making the implementation of energy and cost saving features such as daylight harvesting simple.
Other building facilities can be monitored and controlled under Bluetooth Mesh. The states of collections of different types of device and systems can be modified in unison, automatically or on demand to bring about very precise environmental and service conditions, all in one go.
Furthermore, a Bluetooth mesh lighting system can act as a platform for other smart building services, including asset tracking and indoor navigation and be extended into the future to provide increasing levels of sophistication and return on investment.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career?
When I was 17 and studying for my A-levels, my form teacher brought a Commodore Pet microcomputer into school and showed it to a few of us - he started with a game called Lunar Lander. We were intrigued and delighted and jostled to have the next go. He then hit the equivalent of CTRL+C, typed LIST and hit the RETURN key. That was the first time I’d seen a computer and the first time I’d ever seen a computer program. I was immediately hooked and owe that one teacher a huge debt of gratitude. His name was Mr Corrigan by the way.
What is the question you are most often asked in your business life?
I’d say the one that has come up the most over the last couple of years is “Can you tell us more about Bluetooth mesh?”, which until a month ago, I had to answer with “Sorry, I can’t go into more detail yet”. Happily, that all changed a month ago, and it’s great to be able to talk about Bluetooth mesh extensively now. I gave a talk at an event hosted by Arm a few weeks ago, and every single question I got at the end (and there were a lot) was about Bluetooth mesh.
I get asked about security frequently as well, which I only see as a very positive thing. Security in Bluetooth mesh is excellent and I enjoy talking about its mandatory encryption and authentication, separation of network and application security, ability to isolate different parts of a building from each other and so on.
What are the best/worst things about your job?
I work alone from my home office and have no colleagues in the UK and in fact only one other in the whole of Europe. So, the Christmas party is a bit of a sad affair.
But there are lots of “best things” about the job. I’m constantly learning. I get to code and make things, the best way to cement your understanding of a technical topic in my opinion. I get to travel and to meet and talk with some really interesting and incredibly smart people. Perhaps the best thing is that I’m not just an employee of the Bluetooth SIG, I’m also quite genuinely an enthusiast and like to create Bluetooth related software applications in my spare time. That’s how hooked on Bluetooth I am!
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
I sometimes get asked this by fellow parents about their kids. I think this is a great time to start a career working with technology as there are all manner of interesting things going on and amazing growth projected for some sectors. The advice I give is simply to find something that you find genuinely exciting and absolutely intriguing. That’s top of the list. Beyond that, I believe choosing from one of the sectors and technologies with impressive projected growth makes the most sense for career development and continuing interest and stimulation. IoT seems to have it all; everything from low power communications (by which of course I mean Bluetooth) in constrained devices running embedded software, to Artificial Intelligence and Big Data. On the other hand, I suggest avoiding more mainstream areas of IT if you can. Unless that’s what floats your boat of course.
What living person do you admire and why?
Another tricky one. I’m a cycling enthusiast and so I’ll say Mark Cavendish. Not only is he an exceptionally talented athlete but I think the way he conducts himself, both in victory and defeat is a great example of how to behave.
What advantages can Bluetooth bring to the smart buildings industry?
Bluetooth will allow the smart buildings industry to create truly smart solutions through enabling highly power-efficient wireless communication between devices and building systems. Bluetooth mesh networking in particular, brings sophistication, reliability at scale and security to the world of smart buildings plus compatibility with most modern smartphones and tablets. People and the mobile computing devices they carry and wear are an important part of smart buildings, too.
What is your favourite book?
I don’t have an absolute favourite but my favourite short story is without question The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is an incredible story too. And so is the whole Game of Thrones series!
How do you relax?
I have two relaxation modes; Active and Passive! Active relaxation generally involves heading off on my bike and enjoying the exertion and the scenery provided by local landmarks like Box Hill and Leith Hill. Passive relaxation generally involves messing around with computer-based music production and synthesizers, seeing bands play live at my favourite venue, Concorde 2 down in Brighton or simply watching something good on the telly.
What is your desert island disk?
Just the one? That’s an almost impossible question. So, I’ll cheat. It would probably be Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, a key album from my youth which the one and only John Peel first introduced me to or In Rainbows by Radiohead, my favourite of all their albums. Or something electronic like New Ways by Solvent, which I’m listening to right now.
What is your ideal holiday?
I hate to sit still for too long and I love seeing new places, so my ideal holiday would combine the magic ingredients of activity, variety and novelty. My wife and I spent a couple of weeks travelling in Thailand earlier this year and combined sightseeing in the capital with several days hiking in the hills north of Chiang Mai followed by cycling on a quiet island in the south. That hit the spot!

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