Scratch Characteristics


There are two ways to communicate with Bean over Bluetooth Low Energy. One way is to send and receive data using Scratch Characteristics. Scratch Characteristics offer a method of communication that more closely matches the "under-the-hood" structure of Bluetooth Low Energy devices. Scratch Characteristics are viewable as part of Bean's BLE profile.

The other method is Virtual Serial, which is the preferred method for sending large amounts of data or integrating with the LightBlue SDKs or the Sandbox in LightBlue Explorer. If you're interested in this method, check out our guide on Virtual Serial.

In this guide, you'll learn how to use Scratch Characteristics to receive structured data from Bean.

About Scratch Characteristics

Below we'll describe what scratch characteristics are and how to use them.

What is a Characteristic?

Bluetooth Low Energy organizes information on a device into Profiles. Profiles are made up of Services, which are made up of Characteristics. Characteristics are the smallest division of data. They typically contain one value or a small array of values. If you're new to Bluetooth Low Energy or want to learn more, here is a great intro to BLE by Adafruit.

When to use Scratch Characteristics

You might prefer Scratch Characteristics over Virtual Serial when:

  • You're not building your own app and just want to send a small amount of data (<20 Bytes) to/from Bean.
  • You're using LightBlue Explorer or another general-purpose Bluetooth Low Energy tool to communicate with Bean.

You probably don't want to use scratch characteristics when you're sending more than 20 bytes of data at once. A BLE characteristic has a size limit, and sending more than this amount of bytes requires you to split your data into chunks. Virtual Serial does this for you and works without any extra effort. If you're sending more than 20 bytes, you probably want to use Virtual Serial.

Before You Begin

This tutorial assumes you have completed the Getting Started guide and that you understand how to upload a sketch to Bean using Bean Loader.



Program Your Bean

Connect to your Bean and upload this Arduino sketch. This example will put the current temperature in scratch characteristic 1:

void setup()
  // We don't need to set anything up

void loop()
    int8_t temperature = Bean.getTemperature();
    Bean.setScratchNumber(1, temperature);

Here's what the code does:

  • Line 8: Get the current temperature and save it to the 8-bit signed integer variable temperature
  • Line 9: Set the value of Scratch Characteristic #1 to the value of the temperature variable
  • Line 10: Sleep for 2 seconds before repeating

Talk to Bean with LightBlue Explorer

LightBlue Explorer is an iOS app that allows you to browse any BLE device and it's data. If you don't have it already, install it from the iOS App Store here:

We will use LightBlue Explorer to view our scratch characteristics. Open the app and find your Bean in the list of nearby devices. Touch it to connect.

Connecting to your Bean

Choose the Options button on the top of the screen, then select the service view.

Options menu
Service view

Now scroll down to Scratch1 and select it.

Selecting Scratch1

Tap Listen for Notifications and LightBlue will start listening for updates from Bean.

Listening for notifications

As the temperature values appear, you'll see them being displayed as hex values. This is the default. If you touch Hex in the upper right corner, you can change the display mode to integer:

Temperatures appear as hex

Select the box showing the integer representation (4 Bit Unsigned Int Little Endian).

4 Bit Unsigned Int Little Endian

You can see our office is currently somewhere between 21 and 22 degrees Celsius (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Not bad for winter in San Francisco! :)

21 to 22 degrees Celsius!


In this guide, you used LightBlue Explorer with Bean's Scratch Characteristics to read simple data without having to write a custom app.

Scratch Characteristics work the other way too. If you want to send data to Bean, you can set Scratch Characteristics using LightBlue Explorer or another app and read them inside your Arduino sketch. See the Arduino reference for more details.