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December 30, 2020

Earable computing: A new research area in the making

Some researchers at the University of Illinois believe earphones will be the next significant milestone in wearable devices, and that new hardware, software and apps will all run on this platform. The National Science Foundation-funded team is part of the Coordinated Science Laboratory's Systems and Networking Research Group.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Ear’s the thing.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from NSF -- the U.S. National Science Foundation.

There’s new research in mobile tech that might catch your ear. A team at Illinois State University is looking to transform earphones – right now just a smartphone accessory -- into next gen “Earables”. Multifunctional, wearable devices with their own hardware, software and apps built in.

Some of the research the team’s working on: How about a 3-D virtual voice guide…just follow the direction the voice seems to be coming from, to find, say, a store inside a mall. [earable voice: walk this way or follow me.] The team looked at ways a smart earpiece could sense taps of the teeth (cartoon teeth chatter) to control a device hands-free. They’re experimenting with sensing facial movements too (cartoon face shake) And detecting the direction of a sound to home in more closely on, perhaps, a single voice.

Other applications (heartbeat) could continuously monitor health conditions, track user motion, or offer seamless security. Smart assistants could whisper just-in-time information.

With support from NSF, real people are lending their ears as the team is testing new algorithms for earable technologies. Combining the expertise from a wide range of fields, -- sensing, signal processing, embedded systems, communications, and machine learning.

And sticking ‘em…right in your ear.

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