Computers used to fill a room. They shrank to fit onto a desk, and later evolved into laptops, tablets, smart phones, and even smart watches. What’s next? Smart earphones—literally tiny computers that slip right into your head. With style and sustainability, an integral part of the offering.
EAR Micro began envisioning this future back in 2012 when it drafted its first patents in the space which was later granted in 2015 and has gone on to invent and claim three more handfuls. But the first question most people ask is: “What’s an ear computer, and what can you do with it?” It turns out the answers are powerful, fascinating, and promising.
An ear computer, like its larger counterparts, is fundamentally a multi-core processor (CPU to run operating system software), with memory (to store apps and data), plus a number of I/O peripherals (like USB and Serial), radios (to communicate over bluetooth, wi-fi, etc.), sensors (gyroscopes and multi-touch to enable advanced user interfaces), and powerful digital signal processing for complex audio functions (like voice control, spatial audio, and AI-based ‘selective’ hearing).
Packing all that computing power into the form-factor of a tiny earphone is dizzyingly complex, but enables what EAR Micro calls “eyes free and hands free computing”. The idea, says Bear Clark, EAR Micro’s co-founder and Chief Innovation Instigator, is to “enable the wearer to command, control, and interface more seamlessly with the connected world, without tying up your eyes staring into a screen or tying up your hands, thumbs, or fingers to hold onto a device while typing into it. If you think about it, you’ll realize that’s the inherent limitation in every other type of traditional computing form factor; including wearables like smart watches.”
For example, Bear continues, “our technology can enable a musician on stage to trigger a change in the ‘click-track’ by simply nodding their head a bit faster or slower to change tempo. Or if that artist is working alone in a home studio, they might start or stop a recording by simply biting their teeth, rather than having to take their hands off their instrument.” Clark notes that ear computing technology can also be used to harvest physiological data about the wearer. For instance, he suggests “that if the ear computer senses your balance has been changing over a period of the past several months, it might advise you to book an appointment with a neurologist to rule out Parkinson’s or ALS. But if the ear computer senses that your balance has changed over the past two hours, and you’ve hiccoughed several times, then it’s more likely you’ve consumed too much alcohol and should signal a lock-out of your car’s ignition system—thereby saving your life and the lives of others.”
EAR Computers can also open up new interface possibilities and lifestyle enhancements for the differently-abled. “A quadriplegic who cannot use their extremities, but can control their head and voice, will discover great utility in using ear computers to navigate a wheelchair, or to direct a mouse on a screen while leveraging subtle non-verbal mouth movements to signal a ‘click’ or ‘double click’. The possibilities are endless.”
To that end, EAR Micro spent the past decade not merely patenting these ideas, but advancing the technology, form factors, and micro-miniaturization know-how required to launch the company’s first full-functioning in-ear computers. “Our first product to market is an ear computer tailored to the luxury hi-fi audio market. It’s roughly ½ the size of an AirPod, but many times more powerful and extensible. It allows you to enjoy full high-resolution audio, and also to interface with other connected apps and IOT devices. You can link it through IFTTT to run home automation, and soon—via MIDI 2.0—to interface with digital instruments and recording equipment. We partnered with Klipsch Audio, a company with a rich 75-year history in the hi-fi industry, to deliver something not only top-class in the audio world, but which also packs a suite of functional capabilities unrivaled by any other in-ear product ever conceived.”
Clark goes on to point out that EAR Micro has been approached by “several of the Big-Tech 5” regarding ways to integrate the company’s ear-computing IP and expertise into everything from hearables for use with AR and VR glasses, to tiny ear computers that can be stowed in a watch strap, fitness band, or even earrings. “Imagine you want to go for a run. You pull out these tiny ear computers, stick them in your ears, and take off—meanwhile you’re capturing bio-feedback such as respiration rate, core body temperature, balance and momentum--all informing AI.-enabled in-ear coaching over the top of your favorite sound track.”
Something EAR Micro is also passionate about is sustainability. “With typical wireless earphones, you’ve got limited utility—really just listening to music and making calls. And so traditional consumer electronics manufacturers have primarily focused on budget-based devices designed to be used for only a year or two and then tossed in the trash when tech inches forward, or when the lithium-ion battery inside no longer holds much of a charge. In our opinion, that type of short-sighted thinking is disrespectful to both consumers’ pocketbooks and to the environment alike,” states Clark. "We will also soon be using sustainable materials in our leathers and casing. We'll be announcing these innovations shortly.” In terms of style with substance, the T10 can also be made with white gold, diamonds and amethysts seen in their Fleur de Glace unit. Solid white 10K gold, and 287 real diamonds and amethysts total over six carats.
In contrast, EAR Micro’s in-ear computers were engineered around a novel ‘chassis’ architecture that not only allows the devices to be much smaller than a traditional wireless earphone, but to be mechanically assembled with micro-screws like a Swiss watch. “In this fashion, we can also ‘unscrew it’, allowing the ear computer to be quickly serviced and easily upgraded as technology evolves. In fact, it takes only minutes replace the rechargeable battery at end-of-life, and less than an hour to swap out the entire circuit board. The product is truly evergreen.” While such attention to detail may cost a buyer a bit more up front, Clark argues that it can be less expensive over time to renew and refresh than to constantly buy new and replace.
That’s precisely the type of fresh thinking that could encourage an entire industry to re-imagine what is possible when it takes the time to better balance technological innovation with responsible ecological consideration.