When our parents look at us, they see a high-tech generation...or else a bunch of goofs tripping over the wires of our dangling gadgetry. Many of us spend a good part of the day with a set of headphones on, which means wires twisting around to a pocket music player. Is there any end in sight to our image as electronic device Christmas trees?

There's a group of wireless companies spending millions of dollars to convince us that yes, we will soon be smooth, sleek, wireless wonders. They're placing their bets on Bluetooth technology, especially headphones.

The main breakthrough with Bluetooth headphones is that they replace wires with radio frequency signals — but they're also handy because Bluetooth broadcasting uses less power and creates instant networks with nearby Bluetooth devices.

Did you know? Radio waves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum; radio waves can be anywhere from 1 metre to 1000s of metres long.

Did You Know? The radio waves (i.e. radio frequency signals) used in Bluetooth technology are on the shorter side of radio waves, with a wavelength of 1-100 metres. NOTE: For more on the electromagnetic spectrum see: CLICK on Science ...The Workings of a Remote Control

Part of the problem of having Bluetooth companies spend so much money on advertising is that we end up paying for it in higher product prices. Bluetooth headphones cost anywhere from $150 to $500.

Another problem is that we often end up dazzled by the new technology, expecting more than the product can realistically offer. So, if you're planning to use Bluetooth headphones in the future (and chances are you will use Bluetooth technology at some point), it's a good idea to take a minute to understand how it works:

Bluetooth devices contain a special computer chip with a protocol installed. The protocol is a kind of technical language spoken between Bluetooth devices that all of them can understand.

The Bluetooth protocol language is spoken with electromagnetic waves sent by an electrically powered transmitter. These waves are at a higher frequency than the waves which provide you with FM radio or satellite TV (for all you techies out there, that's about 2.4 gHz for Bluetooth devices). That means Bluetooth devices won't interfere with other signals that are broadcast from older technologies.

Did you know? The frequency of an electromagnetic wave refers to how often the wave occurs per second. Bluetooth waves occur at around 2.4 billion times per second.

Bluetooth devices save power by sending out much weaker signals than other wireless gadgets such as cell phones. Electric power is measured in watts; a cell phone needs up to three watts to send a signal, while a Bluetooth headset uses around one milliwatt (3000-times less power). Less power means that most Bluetooth technologies have a small signal range, starting at one metre for many Bluetooth headsets to 100 metres for industrial uses such as telemarketing agencies.

Did you know? A watt is a measure of electric power; it is the number of units of energy being used per second. To put this in perspective, a standard 60 watt light bulb uses thousands of times more energy per second than a Bluetooth device.

Many standard technologies don't currently contain Bluetooth chips. So, when you buy your Bluetooth headphones, make sure the technology you want to use them with is compatible. Nevertheless, the possibilities in the future are pretty exciting...

If you're in a room with a DVD player, an iPod, and a cordless phone receiver that are all Bluetooth compatible, then you're set to have some fun with your Bluetooth headphones. The different devices would all work together to form what's called a 'piconet', or small network, that can support up to eight devices sharing information.

First, you could power up the iPod, slip on your headphones and dance away without worrying about tripping on wires...on the other hand, you might have to worry about someone walking in on you! If you didn't like the song you were listening to or thought it was too quiet, you can skip between songs and change the volume using controls right on the headset.

Then, you could turn on the TV, pop in a DVD, and watch a movie. You could sit anywhere in the room, and best of all, no one could complain that you're making too much noise.

In the middle of the movie, you might notice a gentle beeping in your ear. That tells you someone (maybe your grandmother) is calling. Without even moving, you could reach up to your ear and press a button that switches you over to the phone line. While talking to your grandmother, you could accomplish some hands-on task you've been putting off — for instance, taking out the garbage — because the wireless earphones leave your hands free.

GOSSIP: Remember when Paris Hilton had the phone numbers stolen from her cell phone? It's possible that someone used Bluetooth technology for wireless access and transfer of the data (i.e., phone numbers) stored on her phone.

So yes, it's true that someday soon we could become the wireless wonders promised by Bluetooth companies. But in the meantime, as we wait for Bluetooth compatible technologies to become widely distributed and affordable, we'll just have to keep our eyes open for stray cords.

References and Cool Sites:

The official Bluetooth website


Bluetooth auto applications


Technical explanations


Bluetooth headphone product review


Thumbnail Photo Credit: KillR-B

Arthur Churchyard is filling his mind with an Arts and Science degree at the University of Guelph. Since he can never decide which science he likes best, he consoles himself by writing about all of them. Arthur interviews Guelph researchers and publishes articles about their work in different Canadian magazines and newspapers as part of a group called Students Promoting Awareness of Research and Knowledge (SPARK).


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