Since the 1990’s or even the late 1980’s, virtual reality has been a familiar concept for most people. The 1999 hit movie, The Matrix, prominently features virtual reality, through characters “living in a fully simulated world, with many completely unaware that they do not live in the real world.” More recently, Facebook’s $2BN acquisition of virtual reality giant Oculus Rift suggests that virtual reality entertainment may be on the threshold of entering the consumer mainstream.
Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) is a hybrid of one’s physical and digital world. Rather than a fully simulated environment, AR offers a digitally enhanced reality presented over a natural background. Like most contemporaries, Reality Technologies defines augmented reality strictly through a visual lens:
“An enhanced version of reality where live direct or indirect views of physical real-world environments are augmented with superimposed computer-generated images over a user’s view of the real-world, thus enhancing one’s current perception of reality.”
Popular Applications of Augmented Reality
The bias towards the visual aspect of augmented reality is understandable. Consider some of the recent (and notable) applications of this technology:
Pokémon Go: In July of 2016, a reboot of a largely forgotten 1990’s video game generated an international sensation. In Pokémon Go, gamers venture through the physical world around them in an attempt to “capture” digital creatures that spawn in different locations. As Pokémon fever swept across the globe, players could be seen swiping away at digital monsters via their phones on street corners, in building lobbies, and in parks in virtually any city.
While the phenomenon soon faded, the significant impact remains visible. One particularly dedicated gamer in New Zealand quit his job as a barista to focus on the game. In a story for VICE Magazine, he recounted the impact he saw the augmented reality game make on other’s lives:
“I met a woman at the very bottom of New Zealand. Her son had autism, and she said he was out walking more in the first day of Pokémon Go than he had in an entire year.”
Construction and Architecture: Architects, contractors, and engineers alike also value the potential of augmented reality. Using innovative new software, designers now bring blueprints to life as 3D renderings of future buildings. Following the Christchurch earthquake, similar technology enabled “city planners and engineers to visualize buildings that were destroyed in the earthquake.” Even beyond the construction industry, a growing number of businesses today recognize the possibilities of augmented reality.
Augmented Hearing: Largely Overlooked with Massive Potential
Looking beyond the visual applications of augmented reality, hearing is the next great frontier. Imagine having the ability to simultaneously blend the soundtracks of your digital and physical worlds. Alternatively, consider the possibilities of being able to selectively tune in or out the frequencies of noises from the physical world around you. The fundamental concept of IQbudsTM brings this concept of augmented hearing to the forefront. Check out the video, and take into account the examples below.
Blending Physical and Digital Worlds. You’ve likely worn earbuds or headphones while working out, commuting, or even while at your workplace perhaps. Listening to music or a podcast enhances such activities for many. However, the drawback of multi-tasking with digital entertainment is a lack of situational awareness of the surrounding physical world. By tuning in to the digital world, one effectively must tune out the physical world. However, with IQbudsTM augmented hearing functionality, the wearer can enjoy the best of both worlds.
For example, IQbudsTM users can enjoy an enhanced experience at sporting events thanks to augmented hearing. Using IQbudsTM, one can mute ambient stadium noise, listen to a radio broadcast of the game, and hear the live action on the field all at once.
Selectively Tuning Sounds from one’s Physical World. Augmented hearing also enables users to optimize the soundtrack of their surrounding physical environment. Consider the applications of IQbudsTM for airplane travel. The ambient noise of an airplane cabin in-flight ranges from approximately 75 to 85 decibels. With IQbudsTM, passengers can effectively mute much of that background noise, while accentuating the speech frequencies of those seated nearby. This enables easier communication with fellow passengers and flight attendants, in addition to reducing stress for many.
Beyond air travel, an estimated 10% of the population suffers from a range of auditory and concentration disorders. A growing number of Nuheara customers report having measurable relief from their existing auditory conditions while wearing IQbudsTM. A pilot study with Curtin University to test the viability of IQbudsTM for students on the Autism spectrum is currently underway. However, anecdotal evidence from customers of all ages suffering from a variety of auditory disorders is noteworthy:
Reactions to IQbudsTM
“Nuheara IQbudsTM are pretty amazing. I have a central auditory processing disorder which makes understanding speech difficult, especially in a noisy environment. On top of that, I am susceptible to sensory overload… with these earbuds, I was able to hear voices much clearer and louder and had a much easier time actually comprehending conversation. These will be a huge help to me!”
“These buds are going to be a game changer. What a remarkable difference they made changing a conversation in a noisy environment from intolerable to pleasurable!”
“Putting IQbudsTM on was like flicking a magical switch. We had never seen our son be so engaged or have such a long conversation with anyone before. He went from being super distracted to focusing on and having conversations. Amazing.”
Is This “Audio Transparency?”
Other manufacturers of wireless earbuds tout their ability to provide users with “audio transparency”. Some have asked if IQbudsTM offer “audio transparency”. “Yes” is the answer. However, augmented hearing goes far beyond what audio transparency provides. Consider that audio transparency speaks to the goal of preserving and transmitting an original sound through a speaker or earbud with little or no audible distortion. A 2014 definition of audio transparency on SonicScoop reads as follows:
“Audio Transparency Defined: In the real world, no audio device outside of a computer can reproduce a signal with 100% fidelity to the original source. But, if the noise and distortion from an audio device is too soft to hear at normal volumes, and the frequency response is flat enough to not notice a difference between engaged and bypassed, then that device can be considered audibly transparent. And today, after nearly 150 years of development, we have access to some of the most transparent audio devices in history.”
The sound quality of IQbudsTM is excellent. Using a high performance, wide band balanced armature driver, IQbuds deliver excellent frequency response and linearity. But beyond audio transparency, the augmented hearing capabilities of IQbudsTM open up a world of possibilities.
The tap-touch controls of IQbudsTM inherently reflect the augmented hearing functionality of the product. Tap-touch functions on the left earbud control elements of the wearer’s digital audio world. The tap-touch controls on the right earbud switch auditory environments and update the hearing processing functions of the wearer’s physical world.
Never before have these auditory applications been seen in a truly wireless earbud. As more consumers tune in to the promise of augmented hearing, expect the traditional definition of augmented reality to expand beyond its current focus on the visual world.