We wanted BluArmor to offer car-like assisted-infotainment experience that catered to the large spectrum of two-wheeler riders around the world. The list of possible features that can be supported in a connected-accessory for two-wheeler riders can range from support for phone-calls, music and navigation that are needed by everyone, to advanced features like ride metrics, crash detection, and group intercom that are specific to a select group of riders. As we evaluated the solutions available in the market, we discovered that there was a lot of untapped potential when it comes to how well these solutions leverage the smartphone’s capabilities. We realized that if our device “talked” to the smartphone in an effective manner, we needn’t stop at just addressing the above requirements but could open up a number of services on your phone when you ride. Further, we would be achieving it in a manner where new services could be made available without the need to upgrade your hardware.
This is the story of how the BLU3 E20 came to offer a host of new features for the connected rider. Read on ...
Let’s start with a quick tutorial on bluetooth systems. Most Bluetooth headsets operate over Bluetooth (BT) classic (with A2DP and HFP profiles, that handle music and phone-calls, respectively), and the exchange of status/control information between the hardware and the mobile app is limited to the small set of commands that are supported through an AVRCP profile. IoT (internet-of-things) devices, on the other hand, are used to transfer data between the connected device and the phone, and typically employ the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol. Since the BLE channel is a data link, there are no constraints to the type of data/commands exchanged between the device and the phone.
BLU3 E20 is, to the best of our knowledge, the first two-wheeler accessory that simultaneously supports BT classic and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocols through its proprietary TWOFLO technology. BLU3 E20’s BT Classic link is used for voice and audio, while its BLE link is an information-exchange channel through which the hardware/firmware and mobile app stay in continuous sync. The information-exchange is extremely robust and manages intended state-changes (rider pausing music, for example) as well as state-changes that are forced upon it by phone-interrupts (rider receiving app notifications on the phone, for example). This opens the door for BLU3 E20 to effectively leverage services on the phone and offer a number of new features.
Leveraging the Voice Assistant
Next, we looked at the most efficient way for the rider to interface with BLU3 E20. Riders need to keep their focus on the road at all times, and we felt that a voice interface between the rider and BLU3 E20 will be the best way to offer the rider every service he/she wants without distracting them. Voice-assistant technology continues to be a primary focus for industry leaders like Apple, Amazon and Google and they are making astounding progress year-on-year in improving the experience for the user. We wanted the BLU3 E20 experience to grow with advances in voice-assistant technology at no extra cost to the rider and have achieved that by integrating BLU3 E20’s control and manual with the phone’s voice assistant (be it Siri or Google Assistant).
Voice-assistant penetration is still low since typical user-scenarios need at most a few taps on the phone. The situation is very different when one is riding a two-wheeler. Hands and eyes need to be focused on the road and an effective voice assistant can quickly become the primary go-to tool to access the phone’s services as long as it is easy to activate. This brings us to the next problem that we have addressed with BLU3 E20.
Every available connectivity accessory for two wheelers comes with a multitude of minuscule buttons (3 to 4) making access difficult while riding with gloved-hands. We wanted to give riders a large surface that is easy to locate and activate. We have developed SAeFex, Situation-aware Actions engineered For an Easy experience, a powerful context-aware technology that has obviated the need for buttons that exist in a typical connectivity accessory. All we have on BLU3 E20 is a single, large click surface that is easy to activate (as depicted in Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: Easy activation of user intent through proprietary SAeFEx technology
SAeFEx has been designed for a safe and easy ride experience, and uses the rider’s context to perform a desired action based on the type of click. For example a single click when idle plays music, while a single click when a phone call is incoming picks up the phone call. A long click activates the voice assistant when idle; the same action rejects an incoming phone call.
Voice Assisted User Manual
Having achieved an extremely simply interface for the user, we turned our attention back to the voice assistant. We felt that adoption of voice assistants would be higher if there was a readily available manual that answers the how-do-I’s. For example, querying the voice assistant (Google or Siri) with a “how do I make a phone call” runs a web search for the query rather than explain how one could use the assistant to make a phone call. We have addressed this by integrating the user-manual (or the how-do-I’s) into the voice assistant. With BLU3 E20, you could invoke the voice assistant with a long click and query it with a “how do I make a pillion call” – the voice assistant will respond with instructions for making a pillion call. We have also integrated a number of BLU3 E20’s controls with the voice assistant. For example, riders can control the fan’s speed, query for battery percentage, call their pillion, or do a host of other things using the voice assistant.
Situation/context awareness has been an important mantra for us through the development of BLU3 E20. SAeFEx was an important first step that allowed us to use context awareness to simplify the interface for the user. We felt BLU3 E20 would be incomplete if we didn’t take it further by utilizing the awareness we had of the rider’s state and location. Some examples of what BLU3 E20 offers in this area are provided below.
Location Aware Voice Notes
With BLU3 E20, riders can record geo-aware voice notes. The voice-note will be automatically geo-tagged with the location, and will be played back to the rider when he/she approaches that location again. Riders can use this feature to set themselves location-specific reminders such as “buy groceries on my way back from work” or “I should really explore this off-road trail the next time I am here”.
Dynamic Voice Control
BLU3 E20 can dynamically adjust the audio volume and fan speed based on the riding speed. The fan needs to do a lot of work in pulling air into the helmet when the rider is stationary or crawling through traffic but is not needed at high speeds. BLU3 E20 recognizes this and conserves battery by regulating the fan speed based on riding speed.
Hear your WhatsApp Message
BLU3 E20 can read out the rider’s Whatsapp messages as they arrive. This feature is supported on both Android and iOS devices; we have implemented support for ANCS (Apple Notification Center Service) to enable us to read out Whatsapp messages for iPhone users.
In the near-term, we will work closely with our beta testers and early adopters to fine-tune the feature-set on offer with BLU3 E20. Fig. 2 summarizes the different steps we have taken to offer you all these features with BLU3 E20.
Figure 2: This is how BLU3 E20 gets the most out of your smartphone
Stay current with software and firmware updates over the air
A key benefit of our software-centric design is the ability to offer you feature enhancements without the need for a hardware upgrade. Over time, we expect to upgrade BLU3 E20’s capabilities to include features like group-intercom, crash-detection and advanced riding metrics. You will be able to get these enhancements via the mobile app as and when we roll these new features out publicly.
Excited? Want to get one right away? Hang on a bit as we get BLU3 E20 ready for production. If you are interested in knowing more, you can sign up here. We will keep you posted on our production-readiness and share exciting early-bird offers (opportunity to beta-test the product, steep early-bird discounts, etc.)