We had an unexpectedly long and interesting conversation today with STMicroelectronics, a company you almost certainly have never heard of unless you’re deep into digital componentry. They’re a big ($8 billion 2013 revenue) chip maker, based in Switzerland, and their products are in — among many other things — the Pebble watch and Jawbone Up.
As a tech demo, Marco Angelici, STM’s division director for Analog, MEMS and Sensors Group, showed a pair of headphones attached to a tablet that did a lot of interesting things that could be extraordinarily interesting to the wearables market. The over-the-ear headphones were, at base, noise-canceling headphones. You could use an app to set the degree of noise cancellation you want. So that’s nice.
But you can also connect that intelligence with Google Maps, for instance. So you can get directional cues while you’re on a run and listening to music. And — this is pretty cool — the app could turn down the level of noise suppression when you approach intersections, so you can hear what’s going on with traffic. It’s not such a leap to envision a camera on the headphones that could turn down the noise suppression when the camera senses someone is looking at you full-face, as they would when they’re talking to you.
Or how about this? Using the compass sensor in a set of headphones in a tour guide app, so you would be given different narration depending on what you were looking at? If you’re standing in a museum (or on a street) in a certain location and looking west, you could be given different content than if you were looking north-by-northeast — and different than if you were looking up than at street level. You want that intelligence in the headphone, of course, because where your head is pointing is probably different than where your phone is pointing.
It was a tech demo, not a product. Pretty compelling demo, though.