Headphones have come a long way in the past couple of years. Nowadays, it's pretty easy to find a pair of noise-cancelling wireless earbuds that allow you to sink into your favourite songs, free from the noise of the outside world. But there's a big problem: they cancel literally all of the sounds, and that can be dangerous, and at at times, just plain inconvenient.
While noise-cancelling headphones are perfect for ignoring some weird guy babbling on the bus, they can also cause you to miss the sounds you need to hear, like when your stop's coming up or when your phone is ringing. To address this problem, researchers have announced a new type of earbud that allows you to pick which background noises get through.
Developed by a team from Curtin University in Western Australia, the new wireless earbuds, called IQbuds, use "augmented hearing technology" that allows the user to pick and choose which sounds they want to hear and which ones they don't. And according to the team, these earbuds aren't just for your music.
Say you're at a crowded party with a friend or at a work function trying to earn some more LinkedIn connections. These situations make it pretty hard to hear the person you're talking to through the din of background noise. The IQbuds would let you focus on the conversation in front of you while ignoring the rest.
Basically, it's a 'smart' hearing device that could make communication, especially in a crowded setting, a whole lot easier.
The buds would connect via Bluetooth to a person's phone, where an app would work as a control panel. Since it's connected to a mobile device, the buds will also feature all of the bells and whistles that normal Bluetooth devices have, such as hands-free calling.
While the team is quick to list off all of the features the headphones will have, they have been tight-lipped about how exactly they give the user so much control.
Other than that mystery, the headphones work basically like any other on the market, where a microphone picks up ambient sounds and then a speaker produces a counter sound wave to cancel it out. The app likely allows users to adjust these waves to cancel out just the sounds they want to, but the team has not yet revealed how the processor inside truly works or what other technology is at play.
Right now, the team is raising money for the project on Indiegogo where they have - as of the date of this article - raised over US$396,000 (792 percent of their original goal).
There's no word when IQbuds will hit the market or what their retail price tag will be, but they do already have some competition.
The folks over at Doppler Labs have been developing their own Bluetooth 'Here' wireless earbuds, which do much the same things that IQbuds do, and boast imperceptible latency coming in at under 30 microseconds (30 millionths of a second), and a dedicated human speech filter, according to Will Shanklin at Gizmag.
Only time will tell which device will reign supreme.