New Tech for the Home, Office and… Factory / by TI

Headphones Without the Headgear

Coming to an office near you in early 2017

The product of two rapidly evolving (and shrinking) technologies: 3-D tracking and sound projection wires were once a necessary evil of the personal audio experience, and soon the in-ear or on-ear component may also be obsolete.

A sound projection system will track your head movements and fire audio to your ears like a laser. With this technology, from Israeli-based startup Noveto Systems Ltd., you could take a personal call or enjoy death metal in your cubicle without the hindrance of headphones. Anyone nearby, even within inches of your head, won’t hear a thing.

How it works: 3-D trackers use infrared sensors and a camera to locate your ears; a projection system generates ultrasonic waves to push sound around the room, targeting your head directly. Then a chip detects your motion on the fly and decides what sound waves to send to which ear.

Noveto’s CEO and co-founder, Noam Babayoff, hopes to bring a desktop speaker and a tiny soundbar to market by next year. Later on, there’s potential for side-by-side videogame play—you’re each given a secret mission that the other one can’t hear, for instance. At an ATM, it could provide balance information to the visually impaired. Think of it as a stereo system where the sweet spot is always you.

The Eye in the Wi-Fi

Coming to a home near you in early 2017

The world is so full of Wi-Fi radio signals that we actually cause them to ebb and shift as we move, like ripples in water. Aerial, a sensor developed by a Montreal-based startup of the same name, can read those disturbances to monitor what’s going on in your home.

The sensor can’t identify individuals (it senses only mass and movement), but it knows where people are—and where they aren’t—by sensing human-size disruptions in the radio waves. And unlike an age-old motion detector, the Ariel can predict the direction that movement is headed.

“When I want to go to the washroom at 3 a.m., I don’t want the light in the bedroom to turn on, only the light in the hallway or washroom,” says Michel Allegue, Aerial’s co-founder and technical lead. The system, sensing his movement and direction, could determine which Philips Hue lights to turn on.

Aerial plans to come to market within a year, either with its own device or as a software upgrade to existing networking hardware, like a router. Early adopters would likely have to find a way to integrate it with other smart-home systems, but the company is in talks with makers of many popular smart-home products.

In the wrong hands, technology like this could be quite scary; a home could be “bugged” with a single sensor or a software hack. But Allegue says Aerial’s design isn’t conducive to snooping on your neighbors: It performs best when installed inside a home, and only works if you know the Wi-Fi network password—which means it might be time to make yours more secure.

—Wilson Rothman

Helmet Required

Coming to a work site near you in late 2016

Yes, the Daqri Smart Helmet will protect your head like a traditional hard hat. But it’s less safety gear than skull-mounted computer, complete with microphones, cameras, thermal and directional sensors and, most significant, augmented-reality capabilities that the company hopes will change how workers interact with machines—and labor in general—forever.

Say you’re a factory worker trying to cool overheated pipes on the verge of explosion (a scenario brought to life by a recent Daqri demonstration). The helmet, which senses heat, provides a digital overlay of data to explain the physical parts and offers step-by-step instructions to avert the crisis. With the “remote expert” function, an engineer in Austria can see what a worker in Brazil sees through the visor, allowing the expert (human) engineer to guide an installation without getting on a plane. Think of the Smart Helmet as a version of Apple’s Siri that leverages all of human and computer expertise instead of simply finding the closest liquor store. Even if you’re just planning a modest home renovation, the technology is here to help.

That versatility is precisely the point, says Daqri CEO Brian Mullins. “Our goal for the product is a helmet you can put on and know how to do any job, just visually, by looking at the world.” Universal omnipotence seems far off at best; Daqri has an undisclosed number of pilot units—starting at $10,000 each—in use around the world: working out efficiency issues in a steel mill in Kazakhstan, aiding the aerospace industry. But later this year, the 20th iteration of the Smart Helmet will be released; gargantuan clients like Siemens and Vinci Construction have placed substantial orders.

Broad adoption could mean safer workplaces and reduce costly business travel; Mullins hopes the human payoff will match the business advantages. “The helmet really redefines the idea of learning,” he says. “We really want to see mobility: that people can put on the helmet, learn to do something entirely different and be able to have a better job.”

—Howie Kahn