The Future for Tools Too?
It seems as though we need ‘Smart’ everything nowadays. Smartphones, Smartmeters and Smart apps are needed to control everything, from our diaries to our heating systems, so it is only a small step to investigate how connectivity can improve our tools and the way we use them. In this regard, Bosch has taken the lead by introducing a small range of six connected tools for what Bosch has amusingly called the ‘Millennitool Generation.’ Bosch has started simply with the small range of ‘connected’ tools but has cleverly future-proofed the designs by allowing the tools to be upgraded via the changeable tool modules and the free downloadable App that accompanies the packages.
Bosch is definitely on to something, because I will bet that there isn’t a building or worksite in the land that does not have its workers constantly consulting their smartphones for everything, from finding lunch locally to online ordering of some new tool or fixture needed.
The basis of the tool connectivity is the well-established Bluetooth model for sending or receiving data. While Bluetooth doesn’t have a long range (about 30m with no obstacles in the way) it is nevertheless a very handy way of connecting.
There is no better way of finding out the wrinkles than trying it yourself, and fortunately Bosch had sent me a sample of the GSB 18V-60 C Professional brushless cordless combi on which to try it out. On the main handle of the drill, just below the trigger, is a small screw cap that conceals the battery and connectivity module. To activate it simply remove the cap and the insulating strip from the battery top and retighten the cap.
Loading the Bosch Toolbox App is as simple as finding it in the Appstore and clicking to download it. This took only a few minutes and I found the app commendably simple to use, even without my glasses, and on a small smartphone screen! By simply pressing the drill’s trigger, thereby alerting Bluetooth that the tool was in the vicinity, I was very soon informed of the exact model of drill on my screen and that the battery needed charging! So, I did what I was told and recharged the battery and had another try. By clicking on the image of the drill I was informed of its factory status in terms of the LED light and the kickback settings, the battery charge and the precision clutch. A whole lot more information from run times to kickback activations is available on the menu so that you can get a really detailed picture of how the drill has been used. The perfect way to check up on the people who borrow your tools or indeed, valuable info for a service department.
In Europe, apparently, it is common for companies to provide their workers with tools, and this connectivity system is an ideal way for these companies to identify, find, service and maintain their tools. In the UK it is much more common for trades to have responsibility for their own tools, so on the face of it, it would seem that the connectivity is not needed as much. Since the connectivity module is an option, users can choose to buy into it or not. However, I offer this observation: having had the opportunity to observe at an electronic level the performance and capability of the drill after a couple of weeks, I became fascinated with the ability to change and control it, look at usage patterns and generally keep an eye on it. So, almost in spite of myself, I started to buy into the system. I am also keen to find out how the system might be developed in the future, since both the app and the module can be easily updated at very little cost. Increasingly, this might become the way in which service intervals and safety concerns can be highlighted. Should Bluetooth change or another tracking system be developed, theft could be combatted or longer range remote location could be developed. My guess is that once the system has bedded in, users will start making suggestions for uses and developments, and like a lot of things these days, the system will only be limited by the imagination and ingenuity of Bosch and its end users. Not to mention that both Bosch and end users will benefit from accurate information about uses, service information, purchase dates and guarantees.
It is clear that Bosch has put some thought into choosing the other tools that are part of the ‘connected’ range. Recently I have been using laser cross-levels quite a lot for everything from tiling to locating and levelling handrails on stairs. The new range of GCL 2-50 C and CG Professional Line lasers, available since the beginning of April, have a few features that would make my life easier. For example, with the laser in locked position and fixed to a firm base, it would be possible to move the laser beam by using a smartphone as a control – even if you are perched on a ladder on the other side of the room tracking the laser beam’s position. A lot easier than trying to ease it into place guided by a couple of tiny pencil marks on a wall and your mate’s instructions. I definitely want to try one of those!
Some of the other ‘connected tools’ are the GSB 18V-85 Professional Combi drill and drill drivers, and the GWS 18V-125 Professional angle grinder. These have state-of-the-art EC brushless motors and electronic control systems to prevent kickback and overheating. Some other tools, like inspection cameras and damp and humidity meters, are ideal candidates for the modular treatment, since they can be remotely connected to report back to clients on the findings of the instruments.
Bosch clearly wants its users to embrace the ‘Millennitools’ and their connectivity and avoid being stuck in ‘Neandertool’ times. I like innovation, not always for its own sake, and I can see that Bosch’s connectivity system, because it is so flexible and future-proofed, will be widely adopted.