Hearables: A universe of smart applications in your ear
Small device, big impact: Future smart earphones could change our everyday life
The global talk about „hearables“ is increasing every day – multifunctional wearables that will offer so much more than today’s earphones. And if you ask me, there is every reason to be excited! A whole universe of smart applications is appearing on the horizon that will support our everyday lives. We are constantly learning about new ideas that could materialize soon.
Instant translations and voice assistants are examples that are talked about regularly. But have you heard about augmented listening, active noise cancelling or layered listening? These functions are becoming a reality. They will be used in areas as diverse as fitness, corporate monitoring, entertainment, health, hearing aids, virtual assistance and, yes, also translations.
The ear is the best place for health and fitness monitoring
Fitness and health applications already play a major role in the current generation of wearables. Worn on your wrist, you can track your steps, your heart rate and much more. This is no news.
However, the ear is actually a much better place for biosensors. It can deliver more data. The ear is in close proximity to important biometric signals, such as brain waves, eye and head movements and also speech. Sensors in the ear can monitor the heart rate, pulse, blood oxygen levels, movements, temperature, skin resistance, stress hormone levels, and so on.
But intelligent earbuds will not only be able to track our activities and monitor our vitals. It will be possible for them to automatically call help in case of an emergency, such as a heart attack. They could even serve as early warning systems for certain diseases, like Alzheimer’s. These diseases can be detected early by speech patterns through artificial intelligence.
Augmented listening can enrich our hearing experience
And then there is the big field of augmented listening. Many will have an idea of augmented reality (not least because of the big Pokémon Go hype some years ago…). Your smartphone or special glasses can add artificial elements to the real world around you.
Now, hearables will expand that experience acoustically, blending in noises and sounds. Let’s imagine you are a store owner and can transmit individualized special offers to your customers. Or you are venturing through a new city and your hearables fade in interesting stories or historical sounds, taking you back in time. And how convenient will it be, when your smart hearables remind you to buy bread, in the moment you are walking past a bakery?
Voice is key
In a possible future scenario, all information will be accessed via voice control. Same as we can tell Siri or Google today to make a calendar entry or remind us of something, we will be able to make purchases and bank transactions, using our voice. As voice assistants become more important, a zero-touch approach is moving into focus. Some already expect screens and touch pads to disappear completely. We will all have a virtual assistant by our side that is a personal coach, a guide, a translator, a wallet… We can switch between various functions with our voice.
Select what you want to hear – and what not!
Imagine you are in a noisy environment – in a restaurant, in a café, at a party or in an open-plan office – where many people are talking at the same time. Especially hearing-impaired people often have difficulties to concentrate on the other person. In such situations, noise-canceling will come into play.
Filter functions can mute the distracting sounds while filtering out the desired speech and music signals and delivering only it those to the ear. Noise cancellation allows users to focus on the sound sources they want or need to hear, such as in a conversation.
In the mix
You probably know that situation when you are riding a train or bus, you’d like to listen to music on your earphones, but worry you’ll miss the announcement? Hearables equipped with layered listening will mix the sounds of the real world around you with your streamed audio simultaneously. You can enjoy your music while still hearing incoming calls on your office phone. Or, while driving or riding your bike, you will still be able to focus on the traffic and hear what is happening around you while using your hearables.
Machine learning and intelligent signal processing make it possible for hearables to detect and capture sounds from the environment. By classifying the sounds of roads and vehicles and extracting the correct cues that signal impending danger, the devices can thus also warn a pedestrian of an approaching vehicle with an audio signal.
Hearables are on the rise as next-generation wearables. However, there are still technical hurdles to overcome. Power consumption, battery life, AI processors, digital signal processors (DSP), microphone arrays and Bluetooth specifications all need to be improved. Components do not only need to be very small, due to the devices’ small size, but also extremely efficient. This is where Arioso Systems GmbH can help with its small, powerful and scalable micro speakers.
I am confident that these technical challenges will be met. Once they are, the small smart earphones can provide us with outstanding listening experiences and open the door to entirely new possibilities that we otherwise only know from science fiction – so it remains exciting! The future is hearable.