Doppler Labs – Smart Earbuds for Augmented Hearing
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In recent articles, we’ve talked about how augmented reality may be the biggest opportunity ever. Introduced to the world with the emergence of Pokémon Go, augmented reality aims to blend virtual reality with the real world. Much of the work being done in this industry focuses on sight, augmenting the way that we see the world and access information. But, what if those same concepts could be applied to other senses as well? Doppler Labs is asking that exact question.
Imagine that you are in a crowded restaurant and are having trouble carrying on a conversation. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could turn down all of the chatter and ambient noise around you, so that you could focus? Now imagine that you are at a concert that features your favorite band. You’re there for the music, but sitting at the back makes it difficult to separate the music from the crowd’s screams. What if you could turn down the excess crowd noise, so that you could clearly hear the music and enjoy the experience more thoroughly? These are exactly the types of situations that Doppler Labs hopes their product can be the solution to.
Doppler Labs was founded by Fritz Lanman and Noah Craft and is based in San Francisco, California. They create wearable technology with the goal of enhancing the way that we experience the world. To date, the company has raised an astounding $50.5 million through 4 rounds of funding. Their most recent Series B funding round of $24 million was announced in July. The company has been able to leverage high profile endorsements from musicians, deals with festivals, and favorable showings to tech media to raise substantial awareness about their product.
Doppler Labs’ first commercially available product is the Here One, a wearable audio system that is designed to augment hearing and offers a variety of audio customization options to users. The product fits snugly into the ears, similar to ear plugs, blocking environmental noise and controlling the flow of sound into the ear canal.
The Here One consists of two wireless in-ear headphones (similar to the Apple EarPods) that connect to smartphones through Bluetooth, pairing directly with the Doppler Labs smartphone app. The headphones are powered by multiple multi-core processors and contain both a microphone and speaker. The audio system captures sounds from the environment, modulates them, and plays them back to the user in nearly real-time, with no noticeable lag. Users will be able to adjust their settings and profiles to essentially give themselves “digital ears” that recognize and implement their preferred audio settings in different environments.
The product has been demoed and endorsed by some of the biggest names in music including Quincy Jones, Hans Zimmer and Mark Ronson. In early 2015, the company announced a partnership with Coachella, allowing music festival attendees to use the technology to reduce hearing impairment due to loud live music, while hearing a clearer version of the on-stage music.
What Can the Doppler Labs Here One Do?
The Here One offers a number of features that give users control over the sounds that they hear in their environment, positioning the product as a pair of wireless headphones, Bluetooth headset, hearing protection, and augmented audio device rolled into one.
The Here One could serve as a utility to those that are hearing impaired, giving them the ability to clearly hear and participate in conversations that otherwise may be difficult. It is built to allow users to amplify speech, hearing every word of a conversation at a crowded party, concert, or restaurant. The Here One includes directional performance, ensuring that sounds feel like they are coming from the direction you’d hear them from. Maybe a good addition to that virtual reality headset you bought for Christmas?
One of the most interesting features of the Here One, is the smart noise filter. This feature allows the device to identify ongoing noise and filter it out, playing only the sounds that the user wants to hear. The feature offers some preset filters for sounds like airplane engine noise, office chatter, or white noise from your environment. The Here One also offers what Doppler Labs has called “adaptive filtering,” allowing users to turn up or down specific frequencies within the app to limit their exposure to certain noises. You can turn down high frequencies to limit crowd noise at a concert, or boost low frequencies to add some extra base to your music. Once you have set your frequencies where you want them, the Here One will then identify all sounds within that frequency range, isolate them, and remove them from playback.
It might seem obvious, but with all of the advanced features built into the Here One it can be easy to overlook the fact that they function as normal headphones as well. This feature was not available in earlier versions of the device and was added when the company moved from the Here Plus to the Here One version. With the additional audio control features, the Here One offers users a lot of control over how their music or other media sounds.
Have you ever wished that you could go through life with your very own soundtrack, just like your favorite movie? The Here One makes that possible. Their “Layered Listening” feature, allows users to play music (or other audio) in the background, while conversations and other sounds continue to come in clearly. You can turn down music while increasing transparency, allowing you to clearly hear conversations while music plays softly in the background.
Complete Audio Control
The Here One gives users to have complete control over the way that sound is modulated and played through the system. Users can change volume settings, EQ, and add sound effects.
Take Phone Calls
Because the Here One has a built-in microphone and connects to your smartphone through Bluetooth, you can take calls through the device. Early reports have stated that the call quality through the Here One is high.
Just the Beginning
Although this is not the first version of Doppler Labs’ product, it represents the first step in a much larger vision for the company. Founder Fritz Lanman has spoken openly about the company’s future plans, detailing how they envision a future where wearable audio systems could completely supplant or supplement existing smartphone technology. Lanman has said that he hopes to “establish the ear as the focal point for the next phase of computing,” and referenced potential advanced features such as real-time language translation as possible additions to future versions of the Here One. For those of you who are avid travelers, think about how powerful that statement is. Soon, we will all speak our own languages and still be able to understand one another. Carry two sets with you and talk to anyone, anywhere!
When Does the Here One Come Out?
Doppler Labs is already accepting pre-orders for the Here One in 33 countries, available at $299. Current orders are slated to be shipped in March, while earlier pre-orders will ship in February. The Here One was originally scheduled for release in November, but was delayed with the company citing manufacturing quality assurance issues.
The global headphone market size is expected to grow to more than $18 billion by 2023, driven by wireless and miniaturization advancements. Additionally, in 2016 Bluetooth headphones overtook non-Bluetooth headphone revenue in the United States. The Doppler Labs Here One may not be a conventional pair of headphones, but does carve out its own original niche in several markets including Bluetooth headphones, hearing protection devices, and the emergent augmented reality industry.
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