Have You Heard About Hearables?

Wearable technology will play an important role in IIoT, Industry 4.0, and smart factories. The wearable devices and fitness trackers we have available to us get more sophisticated, more capable, and more impressive on a seemingly daily basis. As remarkable as our wearables are today, they’re not nearly as advanced as they one day will be. Hearables are a new type of wearable technology that could take wearables from a novelty to a necessity in industrial settings. Poppy Crum, chief scientist at Dolby Laboratories and adjunct professor at Stanford University, wrote an article explaining hearables for IEEE Spectrum.

What are hearables?

Hearables are a type of wearable smart device that are worn in the ear canal. These devices can improve hearing for the wearer in different ways, but they can do much more than that; a hearable is more than just a fancy hearing aid.

They can help the wearer automatically filter sound. In a sense these devices amplify the things that we want to hear and reduce unwanted noise. Hearables turn down the volume on noise pollution and the things that cause emotional stress. They determine what it is you’re struggling to hear and adjust the “signal-to-noise” ratio to the desired source.

They don’t just help us hear better, they help us feel better: more comfortable and less stressed in our environments. Hearables adjust based on mental effort, changes in blood pressure, brain waves, stress levels, and other factors.

The noise amplification and reduction is responsive and intuitive. Crum describes the technology as empathetic. The devices sense the wearer’s focus and detects physiological responses to the environment to decide which sounds need to be turned up, which ones need to be turned down, and other actions to take.

Hearbles could track the wearer’s movement, eye movement, blood pressure, heart rate, nerve stimulation, temperature, oxygen levels, stress levels, focus, and mood.

What can hearables do?

Crum explains different scenarios in which hearables could be beneficial:

  • You’re doing noisy chores but trying to listen to something. Hearables would automatically dial down the blender, or vacuum, or lawnmower, and increase the volume of the news, game, or music.
  • They could turn down music in a crowded restaurant, dial down crowd conversations, and increase the volume for your conversation with your friend.
  • Your children are yelling in the backseat of the car. One’s hungry, and one needs a restroom. The hearable would adjust your seat temperature and air flow to reduce stress levels. It changes to settings based on previous biometrics. It could also tweak the smartphone directions and suggest options for nearest restrooms and restaurants.
  • Wearables could track health data, detects changes in your vitals, and suggest an appointment with a doctor for a correlation with a specific disease.

According to Crum the technology for each of these hypothetical situations is already here — “Nothing in these scenarios is beyond what we’ll be able to accomplish in the next five years. For all of them, the necessary hardware or software is available now or well on its way in laboratories.”

Can hearables improve manufacturing?

The scenarios given were domestic and consumer-driven, but it’s easy to see how this wearable technology could improve manufacturing processes, as well.

Wearable devices in factories can reduce waste and inefficiencies, and improve workflow and productivity.

Again, wearables are more than just a sophisticated hearing aid. They could improve manufacturing processes in several ways.

  • Reduce machine noise.
  • Allow for conversation on factory floors.
  • Improve worker health and safety by tracking stress levels, temperature, and emotional state. This could help ensure that workers take necessary breaks.
  • Knowing what workers are focusing on, and what they’re not focusing on, can improve safety by limiting movement of machinery, cobots, vehicles to prevent worker injuries, and notifying workers of potential risks or hazards.

These devices could be worn directly  in the ear canal, or attached to safety glasses frames. Or maybe there will be entirely new designs when hearables are ready for the factory. The important thing it that they should be comfortable and secure enough to wear for long periods of time.

You don’t have hearables in your factory yet, but you do have Indramat servos. It may be time to give your servos some TLC. We offer preventive inspection, maintenance, repair, and retrofitting services for Indramat systems. Call 479-422-0390 or contact us online.