WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Wired headphones get tangled, wireless headphones need charging, so why bother with headphones at all?
When Apple introduced the iPhone 7 they removed the headphone jack and spun it as a win for consumers who could now use wireless headphones, obviously preferably Apple branded AirPod ones, for a better overall sound experience and no more tangled wires. Although now you have to remember to charge your headphones, but what if you didn’t need headphones in the first place?
Israeli startup Noveto though is going one step further, they want to eliminate headphones entirely with a new technology that beams the sound from your device directly into your ears. In essence they’ve invented virtual headphones. And what’s even better is that the new tech also cuts out up to 90 percent of all the white noise around you too. Did I hear you say awesome!?
In order to do this Noveto uses a system of sensors similar to those in the latest iPhone X, which unlocks your phone using facial recognition rather than password or finger recognition.
The CES promo reel
Using its own algorithms, Noveto finds your face and calculates the distance to your ears, which, even better, don’t have to be visible, and a specially developed tiny speaker focuses the sound there. Move your head and the sound follows you. And no sound leaks out to disturb your neighbours.
There are some limitations on how much you can move though. So sports like jogging or skiing are out. Instead, Noveto is concentrating on three business opportunities, namely car entertainment systems, office speaker systems, and gaming.
“It creates a sound bubble around the passenger’s head,” says Noveto cofounder Noam Babayoff. Noveto can do more than just manage entertainment though.
“Let’s say a pedestrian jumps into the road in the driver’s blind spot,” Babayoff continues. Noveto broadcasts in the audio equivalent of 3D, so an accident warning signal can be perceived by the driver exactly where it is in space – for example, the front right of the car.
As Babayoff points out, “Our body’s instinct for security is based on audio.” In the savannah, we listened for lions before we saw them.
Because it’s already tracking your face, Noveto could potentially support hand gestures to place phone calls, shuffle music and perform other functions that currently contribute to “distracted driving” — in light or dark conditions.
To illustrate the benefits of their new tech in August last year Babayoff and his cofounder and CEO Tomer Shani took a Noveto demo system to a video game conference.
“The reaction was amazing,” says Shani, “[the system] allows gamers to play for hours in front of a computer without getting headphone fatigue,” but the pair admit that parents might find this a less appealing selling point. There are also benefits for the coming wave of virtual reality applications.
“If someone is creeping behind you in a game, you want to know that,” Shani says. Noveto adds the audio cues. And if you turn your head, the audio will move with it. Current VR audio systems can’t locate sound in 3D space.
Noveto has taken its technology, whose official name is Sowlo, a mashup of “solo” and “owl,” the animal known for its excellent hearing, furthest in the automotive space.
After displaying an early version of its device at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, German car giant Daimler was so impressed it invited Noveto to join its “Startup Autobahn” accelerator. Noveto also won a “Best in show” award at the 2016 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
In the future Babayoff and Shani envision the technology becoming an integral part of smart homes. Noveto “speakers” could be hidden around the house – next to or behind pictures on the wall, for example – so that the sound from your computer, mobile device or Amazon Echo follows you, and just you, everywhere.
While watching TV, each person could have the audio beamed directly to his or her head – no more frustrated neighbours telling you to “Turn it down!” And if one person is hard of hearing, his or her audio could be boosted without blasting everyone else, and multiple language audio could be supported.
While the 12-person Petah Tikva-based company has raised $9.5 million since it was found in 2011, Shani estimates Noveto will need another $30 million in the second half of this year to commercialize its products.
There’s also concern about the price of the device. Currently around $200 per installation, that’s expensive for consumers used to picking up $20 headphones from China, and even more for automakers who pinch every penny to keep costs in check. But the price will come down, Shani assures us. However, whatever the price, over time it will inevitably come down and then we can all bask in the glory that is our own personal soundcloud…
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