Cellphones are smart, MP3 players and iPods are smart – and now our smart appliances have a smart companion, earphones. Before you envision white Apple-esque earbuds, there finally comes a cool product to market not invented by the Empire. Nope, these ones were invented in Tokyo by the Igarashi Design Interfaces Project.
Igarashi’s (they will have to come up with a more marketable name for them-ya know, like the Empire would) new concept are universal earphones that are smart enough to compensate for incorrect ear insertion by switching audio channels. So if you put your ear bud in the wrong ear (which happens daily with my iPod thanks to those too damned small little white ear buds), it will auto-correct you.
By placing small proximity sensors in their earphones, they can easily determine incorrect placement by searching their surroundings. If it sits closely next to the back of your ear, it is in correct, but if it points forward, toward the fresh air, then it detects a mismatch and swaps audio circuits.
This of course is minor news for the audiophile community, but the potential purposes these proximity-sensored earphones are proving quite handy indeed.
The Sharing-with-a-friend ConundrumThese ‘smart’ headphones can also determine whether you are sharing your earbuds with someone else. When used by just one person they run a super-weak current between them (is anyone else picturing a Jacob’s Ladder through the brain?), but when shared between two users that connection is broken. In response to that broken current the earphones will discontinue right and left speaker audio circuits and run both channels to each earphone to provide better sound.
In-Ear Detection and Split-Track-Playing in our Future
In addition to changing the audio output depending on the earbuds placement, the group has announced that they plan to move forward with additional earphone features, including using skin-conductance sensors and using the proximity sensors for shared-use detection.
Shared-used detection would pump different music into each bud for split-user listeners, using the unit’s proximity sensors and current disruption patterns. The group’s idea for conductance sensor use could allow earphones to recognize when they are removed from the ear, and could transmit a signal to audio players to automatically pause/resume the music when removed/reinserted in the ears.
All this might be small news overall to the audio-technology field—but as far as earbuds go, this is the greatest leap forward in their technology since their invention.