Speaking voice commands to a mobile device in public can make some people feel a bit silly, plus background noise or privacy concerns may be a problem. French startup Wisear has developed an alternative, in the form of earbuds that "read" the user's facial activity.
Currently in functional prototype form, Wisear's Perceive earbuds – or one of the pair, at least – incorporate electrodes that detect electrical signals in the skin of the user's ear canal.
Those signals are produced by intentional movements of the facial muscles, with different subtle movements (such as jaw-clenching) corresponding to different commands on a Bluetooth-linked smartphone, laptop or VR/AR headset. The commands can consist of actions like taking phone calls, playing music, or whatever the user wishes.
In the present version of the technology, the earbuds only utilize signals produced by facial movements, allowing for two control functions. By the end of the year, however, Wisear plans to offer increased functionality by adding eye movements to the mix. The company hopes to extend the technology even further in 2024, by offering controls activated solely by brain activity.
CEO Yacine Achiakh tells us that Wisear is currently exploring the possibilities of manufacturing the Perceive earbuds itself, and on licensing the technology to other companies. He adds that the system may also be able to utilize the electrical signals produced by silently mouthing voice commands, as is the case with New York University at Buffalo's experimental EarCommand setup.
Interested parties can demo the prototype Perceive earbuds this week at CES, where the technology has received an Innovation Award.