Gadgets

Bluetooth Breakthrough Awards: 2015 winners revealed

Oral-B, Smart Kapp, Cobi, and student Kenneth Shinozuka enter the 2015 winners circle for their unique approaches to Bluetooth-compatible products and services.

Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG)

An electric toothbrush app, a digital whiteboard, a smart bicycle accessory and a student-designed medical sensor are the Bluetooth Breakthrough Award winners for 2015.

The winners, acknowledging achievement in Bluetooth-compatible hardware and software in four categories -- apps, products, prototypes and student-created initiatives -- were chosen by a small panel of CNET editors. (CNET is the official media partner of the awards.) They were selected from a larger group of finalists in each category selected and announced back in January by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), a global trade group dedicated to boosting the wireless standard now found in nearly every mobile hardware product and beyond.

"The Bluetooth Breakthrough Awards continue to exemplify the breadth of Bluetooth enabled products and Bluetooth technology's unique ability to spur innovation," said Errett Kroeter, senior director of marketing at Bluetooth SIG. "Our winners continue to shine a light on the extraordinary products, apps, and prototypes that come from our membership, hobbyists, and students. Bluetooth wireless technology continues to provide the scale, flexibility, and trust that inspires innovation and delivers the best consumer experiences."

Entering the winners' circle for 2015:

Best app: Oral-B

The Oral B SmartSeries toothbrush Shara Tibken/CNET

Electric toothbrushes are hardly new, but Oral-B is putting a twist on the familiar grooming accessory with the addition of Bluetooth. The companion smartphone app -- available for both Android and iOS -- "gamifies" the brushing process, ensuring that you hit the recommended 2-minute brush session. It also gets feedback from the toothbrush's pressure sensor to warn you if you're pressing down too hard.

We first saw the Oral B hardware and app back at Mobile World Congress 2014 , but the product is finally on its way to US shelves this month.

Read: Oral-B SmartSeries Bluetooth toothbrush brushes up on oral health

Read: Oral-B interactive Bluetooth toothbrush coming to US teeth soon

Best product: Smart Kapp

Anyone in a classroom or a work meeting is familiar with a dry-erase whiteboard. But as good as they are for sharing ideas in a group setting, we've also seen plenty of times where brilliant notions get wiped away with an errant eraser -- or so much time is spent copying from the board that you don't pay attention to what's being said.

Smart Kapp's Bluetooth-enabled whiteboard aims to change that. The Smart Kapp enables easy sharing of what's on the board to anyone with the Android or iOS app, including the ability to export whiteboard "screen captures" to other apps like Evernote, Google Docs. or One Note (to name just a few).

With boards available in 42- and 84-inch sizes starting at $899, don't be surprised if Smart Kapp ends up as a more affordable, basic alternative to Microsofts' recently unveiled Surface Hub.

More information: smartkapp.com

Best prototype and overall 2015 winner: Cobi

The COBI Hub integrates an LED light ring. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

"Cobi" is short for "connected bike" -- which just hints at what this Kickstarter-funded project from Germany's iCradle is all about. The Cobi Hub (shown above) is the product's main hardware component, a handlebar-mounted cradle for your smartphone that also features an LED headlight, battery backup for the connected phone, and an accelerometer-triggered theft alarm. The companion app offers navigation, music, and speedometer options (just make sure you keep your attention fixed on the road). Furthermore, the Cobi is designed for modular add-ons, including a brakelight and a thumbstick.

CNET's Antuan Goodwin was impressed when he saw an early version of the Cobi back in December. More than two months later, we found it to be the most promising prototype -- and the top overall 2015 Breakthrough winner, too.

Read: Your bike and your smartphone become one with this Kickstarter connected bike system

Student winner: Kenneth Shinozuka's SafeWalker

One of the many challenges afflicting families who take care of Alzheimer's sufferers are the patients' proclivity to "wander," especially late at night when others in the house are asleep. SafeWalker is a Bluetooth-based sensor that triggers an alarm when the patient's foot touches the floor, so they can be intercepted before getting into harm's way. It's an ingenious solution, made even more impressive by the fact that its inventor is 16-year-old Brooklyn high school student Kenneth Shinozuka, who was inspired to help his own Alzheimer's-afflicted grandfather. Kenneth has already snagged a Google Science Fair award (among other honors) for his impressive work.

More information: Kenneth Shinozuka: My simple invention, designed to keep my grandfather safe (TED.com)

More information: Teen Invents Sensor to Help Alzheimer's Patients (NBC News)


The overall winner, Cobi, receives two round-trip tickets to Bluetooth World 2015 and free exhibition space there valued at $12,500 USD. As the student winner, Kenneth Shinozuka receives a cash prize of $5,000.

A final note: while these awards are indications of the products' potential, they don't necessarily constitute CNET's official buying advice. As always, that's reserved for rated reviews (which some of these products may receive in the future).