A wireless home? No, Bluetooth-inventor Jaap Haartsen still has cables in his house. “I like to keep my work separate from my home life.”
In Jelling, a small place close to Legoland in Denmark, there is a stone with runes carved by the Viking King Harald Blåtand. While visiting the museum there, Jaap Haartsen read this on a wall: ‘Bluetooth is also the name given to a wireless system used throughout the world.’ It made him laugh; after all, Bluetooth is actually much more famous.
In May 2015, his name was added to the American National Inventors Hall of Fame, alongside those of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and the Wright brothers. “It’s a bit weird”, says Haartsen, a genuinely modest man. “Being famous was never on my radar. I’m not a singer or an actor. I’m interested in very different things.”
‘It’s a bit weird. Being famous was never on my radar’
Electrical engineering, to be specific. Even as a child, he was fascinated by the electric motors that his father worked on. At the age of twelve, he and his father took a Teleac course on microprocessors, which were just emerging. He graduated with a project on surface acoustic wave detection with applications for sensors, and after his PhD, decided to work for a multinational.
He chose Ericsson, where he spent the first two years in the United States working on mobile telephony, and later on indoor technology. After this, he went to Sweden and in 1994, he started work on developing Bluetooth. Has this wireless communication changed his life? “According to my wife, it’s my fourth child. It obviously took up a lot my time and energy, and in some ways, it still does. But the fact that it’s become world famous isn’t only down to me.”
A lot of doors are open to him if he wants. “I try to arrange my life so that I have a good balance between work and home.” Chasing a career isn’t his main goal in life. “I’ve been avoiding management for as long as possible, and it seems to have worked so far.”
But he does enjoy teaching. He was a part-time professor in Twente from 2000 until 2008, where he taught mobile radio communication until he started his own company, Tonalite. The company produced wireless headphones. In mid-2012 it was taken over by Plantronics, which is where he still works on wireless communication. “There’s still so much to learn; that´s what I like about it. You have to stay up-to-date, because things change so fast.”
Since he decided to study electrical engineering, not a day has gone by without learning something, he claims. In Delft, he learned to see connections and get to grips with things. “This was a very important stage of my development and I still spend a lot of time with my nose in a book trying to find explanations.” But never on holiday. He likes to go camping. “No electricity, no monitors. Maybe it’s an antidote.”