LONDON – Chip company STMicroelectronics NV has announced that it is working with startup Soundchip SA on an in-ear audio accessory that allows the wearer to switch between multiple audio sources – such as music, phone calls and real-world ambient sound or conversation – using voice commands or gesture recognition.
ST has been working with Soundchip (Lausanne, Switzerland) for about one year. Soundchip has particular expertise in audio algorithms and is the originator of the High Definition Personal Audio (HDPA) reference.
The Soundchip smart audio accessory is worn like a pair of in-ear monitors but they are designed to be worn at all times with modes that support music, telephony and direct conversation without requiring any adjustment to the in-ear apparatus. This has the benefit of protecting the wearer against unwanted background noise which the system can filter out. Effectively it is a hearing aid for people who are not yet hearing impaired.
Soundchip give the example of being able to initiate a phone call in a rock concert and allowing the wearer to converse naturally with the earphones in place.
The accessory is intended to physically seal the ear and to switch between voice, music or ambient sounds, by pressing a button, by making a pre-defined gesture or by speaking a voice command. The equipment will use ST MEMS sensors, including silicon membrane microphones, for a variety of tasks ST said.
The ability to link the hearing aid to a smartphone or tablet computer, means that apps can be used to process and mix sound sources to deliver additional features such as augmented reality.
"We believe that the smart audio accessory represents a game changing solution that offers the users of smartphones, tablet computers and gaming devices a level of sound experience only dreamed of until now," said Mark Donaldson, Soundchip CEO, in a statement issued by ST.
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As far as I know, wearing headphones or earbuds on both ears while driving is illegal in both UK and HK. I have seen multiple times people in US are wearing earbuds while driving. I feel it is a very dangerous thing to do. On the road, I don't just use my eyes. I listen as well.
This piece of technology is surely worth for those who want bit more than that is currently available. I would think this device as a mix and all-in-one device of currently available audio devices. The problems i have are related to safety, adaptability and price. I remember reading a story about the safety concern of using iPod and such devices related to deaf. As far are the adaptability goes, i hardly can use earphones or bluetooth devices for more than 3-4 hours in a day as i feel so unrelaxed.
The immediate market opportunity that comes to mind is high-end hearing aids. I would love to have something like this where I could listen to music without having to carry around bulky headphones...
The selection of "hands-free" headsets for cell phone users with hearing aides is very limited also and something like this would solve the problem...
Of course, the battery/power consumption needs to be on the same order as what's currently on the market for hearing aids or users won't buy it.
I can't imagine anyone has any trustworthy hard data on the table about market opportunity; think of it as an exploratory phase similar to what Google is doing with their googles: augmenting real time activity.
In addition to the regulatory and public safety concerns (which I think are profound, but perhaps not insurmountable), there are some fascinating pure engineering problems here if you consider truly wireless in-ear devices that are mesh network connected. Battery/power is just the first one that comes to mind
It certainly seems likely that they will be able to run in an "auto-sense" mode where it will switch. Most of the time, the noise that you want to block out is "white" noise, rather than impulse noise. Thus, safety should be less of an issue.
Quite interesting. I wonder what will be the attempts to legislatively control this in view of the apparent inability to control talking and texting while driving. We have serious issues now with such relatively simple things, but many people seem to be severely challenged to simply walk and talk at the same time. What will it take to get this under control? Perhaps we should start with some serious education efforts in early elementary school....
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