Smart bands may be getting a bit stale, or in any event they are saturating the market. CES 2016 was littered with wrist-wear, mostly due to the sheer number of redundant fitness trackers — but there’s a new place on our bodies that companies are starting to utilize for wearables — the ear.
And just how wearables targeted towards the wrist gradually began offering various size options, there’s a company that’s interested in providing you the perfectly-sized earbud. No, they’re not just offering more silicone tips — they’re 3D scanning your ear.
United Sciences has developed a non-invasive 3D ear scanner that captures the geometry of the inner and outer canals of your ear in order to find the optimal fit for earbuds, says the company’s CEO Samuel Kellett, Jr. The eFit 3D scanning technology was the named as a CES 2016 Innovation Awards Honoree.
Within the past year, “hearables” have become more prominent and quite a few made a splash at CES 2016 — notably Doppler Labs’ Here earbuds that let you selectively filter and amplify sounds in your surrounding environment, and the Dash earbuds. Dash doubles as a pair of high-tech Bluetooth earbuds and a fitness tracker, and also has a plethora of other features including the ability to function while you’re taking a swim.
While those device improve upon the functions of earbuds, there still exists the problem of finding the right fit. Right now the company is partnering with various organizations to make use of its eFit scanning technology — with the U.S. Navy being one of these groups.
“The U.S. Navy has proposed to Congress a roll-out of eFit scanners so their war fighters will be wearing hearing protection made from a 3D scan,” Kellett said. “We are working with a number of global consumer electronics companies to help them develop hearables use cases. We also sell our eFit scanners to custom headphone companies today and then we collect a royalty on each in-ear device that is sold. Our partners, like Logitech U/E, have placed scanners in retail locations on three different continents but predominantly in Asia.”
Now the company is looking to bring its scanners directly to retailers, rather than going to brand partners first.
And what better way to introduce the technology to retailers and the public than the company’s own “hearable”? The company is looking to launch a Kickstarter in February to fund bringing its eFit stations around the country, so that you could potentially walk into retailers like Best Buy or Walmart to get your ear scanned. The scanning process takes about 90 seconds, and Kellett says if the retailer also has a printing station, you could wait around for an hour to pick your custom-fitted earbuds up, or you can have them shipped to your house within a few days.
Kellett says having scanners at specific locations is beneficial to retailers as well, as they don’t have to keep inventory, and the scanners generate more traffic to their brick and mortar stores.
“We’re just showing through this Kickstarter campaign that we enabled a wearable computing platform.”
But like the Dash and the Here, there’s more than meets the eye with the eFit earbuds. Since the earbuds can have sensors packed close to the skin, the company plans to offer four different categories to choose from for your own pair, ranging from sports and fitness, to traveling, sleep monitoring, and concentration.
Sports and fitness tracker
The sports and fitness variant will act like an ordinary fitness wearable, measuring activities, counting your steps, and tracking distance and calories burned. It will also monitor your active and resting heart rate, as well as your oxygen saturation levels.
This option features standard noise cancellation and an Aware Mode, which basically lets you hear everything around you at the touch of a button. This version can also do nearly all of what the fitness version can — count calories burned, steps, monitor heart rate, and track your distance traveled. The traveling variant will excel in sound though, providing “deep, powerful sound for music and podcasts.” We can’t say for sure how good the quality will be until we get a pair of these earbuds — or rather, until we get our ears scanned. It’s also strange that only one type of earbud will have great sound quality — it would be nice if that was a standard.
This variant has quite a few features packed into the tiny earbuds. It will track movements you make during the night, as well as if you grind your teeth. It can show detailed information on REM cycles, while also monitoring light and deep sleep. According to the company, the sensors will also feature audio recording to pick up your breathing patterns during the night. It isolates noise, and can also act as an alarm clock. Thanks to being custom-fitted for your ear, they likely won’t fall out as easily as normal earbuds.
The Concentration version will monitor brain activity, and will also have a feature called Silent Alert, notifying you when you are falling asleep — which can be especially useful if you’re driving.
All variants will include Bluetooth connectivity, a microphone, and speakers, and will be compatible with the company’s Android and iOS app to view your sensor data. If the Kickstarter succeeds, the company is planning on bringing its eFit stations first to major cities including Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C. and Dallas.
The company’s core technology is precision 3D hole scanning and imaging, and it’s exactly what the company is trying to show off through this campaign. It’s also likely the reason why the earbuds probably aren’t much to look at right now, but that could change depending on the success of the upcoming Kickstarter campaign.
“With Kickstarter … we really don’t want to make in-ear devices,” Kellett said. “We’re just showing through this Kickstarter campaign that we enabled a wearable computing platform. We want every consumer electronics or health company, researchers at universities, or guy or woman in their garage to develop unique use cases for custom in-ear devices. We will make the eFit scanner available to everyone which will help us build our ecosystem.”
A software development kit will be a part of the offerings in the Kickstarter campaign. The custom wired headphones will go for $135, while the sensor-equipped variants will cost $300 a pop.