Here Comes a Brand New Flava in Your Ear (Earable Computing)

AirPods seem to be the standard for cool. They are what separate the “young” from the “old”. The “new” generation from the “past.” Those who have the latest, trendy gadgets, and those who are behind on the times.

However, according to scientists at the University of Illinois, we might be on the cusp of far greater technology, stuff that would render AirPods archaic. It’s called “earable computing”, and it may have some far-reaching effects.

Romit Roy Choudhury, professor in electrical and computer engineering, states that ”The leap from today’s earphones to ‘earables’ would mimic the transformation that we had seen from basic phones to smartphones.” What Mr. Choudhury means by this is much like the leap to the smart phone shattered the notions of what a phone is meant to do, earables can surprise us with its possibilities as well. Before, nobody would dream that a phone could do more than make a phone call and send messages. Now, smart phones are the standard medium for not only all forms of communication, but for reading, listening to music, GPS…of course, I don’t have to explain what your phone can do. But, try to think about that leap-from the original flip-phone to those sleek personal assistants we carry in our pockets. That’s what earable technology is aiming to accomplish.

So how can this kind of technology make that jump? What exactly more can we get from these advanced earphones? Well one goal is to sense human behavior and respond accordingly. The devices would be able to monitor facial expressions and facial activity. This means that it would know when you are happy, sad or distressed. As meditation apps like “Calm” seem to be gaining popularity, this would be a significant integration for their systems, being able to help regulate people’s emotions while monitoring them. Another huge implication is in the medical field, as facial activity, such as teeth chatter, can signify certain medical conditions.

The earables would also be able to distort sound for an augmented reality experience. So, if you are lost, the earable would be able to have a voice whisper “this way”, seeming to be coming from a certain direction, and all you would have to do is follow the voice. This would also be sure to play a part in gaming experiences for virtual reality games. This may seem exciting, but perhaps parents would be hesitant to allow their children to experience warfare sounds so seemingly real at such young ages.

This kind of technology would also be very beneficial to those who are hard of hearing and require hearing-aids. Often a problem with hearing aids is that they pick up on unwanted sounds and amplify them. The wearable software, can actually selectively tune into the direction of certain sounds. So if one person is at a party talking to someone else, the sounds of their voices would be focused on by the earables. One company that is using AI to take hearing-aids to the next level is Starkey Hearing Technologies. Ironically, the cool AirPods you wear may be bested by what your grandma will be using in a few years. President of Starkey Brandon Sawalich says “What we want to do is make hearing aids cool.” Maybe they will.

I was a teacher. Now I’m a coder.