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Smart Home

Want to make your dumb Bluetooth speakers smart? This could be the answer

Alexa, time to get with the Bluetooth program.

Anker SoundCore Boost

Wave the magic Bluetooth wand and make your dumb speaker smart.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You may not know as much about Bluetooth as you think.

Bluetooth is usually thought of as a communications technology that links two pieces of hardware together, but it's capable of much more. It can actually connect multiple devices at once; it just needs the right software enhancements.

Last year at IFA, French startup Tempow showcased these kind of enhancements by building them into the Moto X4 and enabling the phone to let you broadcast music to several different Bluetooth devices at once. This year at the giant European trade show the company is back to show off similar connectivity, but for smart speakers and TVs.

To demonstrate this development, Tempow has partnered with another French company, which makes a robot called Keecker, effectively a mobile smart speaker with a built-in video projector. With Tempow's software, Keecker can connect to multiple Bluetooth speakers at once, all while acting as a subwoofer, allowing you to create a makeshift surround-sound system.

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Keecker has some new Bluetooth skills.

Chris Monroe/CNET

But perhaps the most exciting use case for Tempow's tech is the possibility of making dumb speakers smart by linking them up with Wi-Fi connected smart home devices.

Imagine you have already have a multiroom Amazon Echo setup but you also have a bunch of great-sounding Bluetooth speakers you'd still like to use. You could potentially connect as many as six speakers to an Echo when it's in range. And presuming your Bluetooth speakers came with a built-in microphone -- it wouldn't be unusual, many do -- you could then use that mic to talk to Alexa and ask her to play some music through your setup. There you have it: Your previously dumb speaker is now an Alexa-enabled device.

Another intriguing concept is the ability to link multiple speakers, or even several pairs of headphones, to a TV at once. This could be set up so that if one viewer was hard of hearing, audio could be streamed to his or her headphones according to a custom sound profile, while everyone else in the room could listen via Bluetooth-connected speakers.

These individual sound profiles could also be customized for languages.

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Can you listen in two languages? Bien sur!

Katie Collins/CNET

At IFA I witnessed Pirates of the Caribbean streaming from one television to two different speakers, which were each playing the audio in a different language. In my left ear the dialog was in French; in my right it was in English. This obviously isn't the way I'd choose to watch a film, but it demonstrated to me how, using headphones, speakers of different languages could enjoy a film together in the same room.

Tempow's hope is that more companies building smart speakers will want to license its software, just as Moto did last year. The tech is hardware agnostic, meaning products don't need to be specially adapted to make use of it. It can also be rolled out to existing products via over-the-air updates, so it could potentially be added to your favorite Bluetooth-enabled smart device -- phone, TV or home hub -- at any time.

The big win for the company would be getting smart speaker makers like Google, Amazon and Apple on board. They're the biggest fish in the tech ocean, though, so it might not be easy.

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