While room-assistant has always been able to track iPhones and iPads using Bluetooth Classic, the ability to track them using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) was complicated by the MAC randomization Apple employs for privacy’s sake. Luckily though, a companion app, which is currently in beta, allows those in the Apple ecosystem to benefit from everything BLE has to offer.
For those looking for a reliable presence tracking on a room to room basis, room-assistant has long been the way to go. It can be installed on many single-board computers, though the Raspberry Pi Zero W is the favourite among its users. Especially since detailed guides on how to get room-assistant set up on a Raspberry Pi Zero W are available.
The problem with Bluetooth Classic tracking
Using Bluetooth Classic in room-assistant has several major drawbacks. Because Bluetooth Classic uses the same 2.4 GHz band as Wi-Fi and Zigbee, it can have a negative impact on both networks. To minimize the interference, Bluetooth Classic has a relatively slow refresh rate of up to six seconds.
Imagine entering your bathroom and having to wait six seconds until the lights turn on. You’d be better off using a light switch. You could, of course, combine room-assistant with commonly available motion sensors and use them for the instant reaction and room-assistant to make sure the lights don’t turn off.
I wouldn’t be ready to risk the stability of my Zigbee and Wi-Fi networks, so using Bluetooth Classic wouldn’t even be an option. You could of course also add an iBeacon (such as the RadBeacon E4 or RadBeacon Dot) to your keyring, but that would require you to carry yet another thing around.
What about Android?
Community members with Android smartphones haven’t had this issues because the Android operating systems allows apps to create virtual beacons, something that is forbidden by Apple. A popular app to do exactly that is Beacon Simulator, which can be downloaded from the Google Play Store and set up in a matter of minutes.
How BLE tracking with room-assistant on the iPhone will work
The only option the developers of room-assistant had, was to create a companion app to their application. The app is currently still in beta, but those willing to give it a try can do so using TestFlight, Apple’s app testing platform.
If Bluetooth or BLE tracking isn’t enough for you, room-assistant also supports two thermopile sensors. The Omron D6T and Grid-EYE thermopile sensors are designed to measure temperature from a distance by detecting an object’s infrared (IR) energy. This might sound similar to Passive Infrared Sensors, but thermopile sensors can be used to detect human presence in the room, even if you are stationary.