Bragi CEO: The ears are the right place for wearable tech

We speak with the founder of Bragi and inventor of the Dash about hearables

For some people, a technological singularity where artificial intelligence surpasses all of human understanding is a scary thought. Nikolaj Hviid is not one of those people.

As the inventor of Dash and founder of Bragi, Hviid instead believes he is leveraging computational intelligence to create tools to help humanity cope with the scarcity of time.

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"This is the best day of the rest of my life," Hviid said matter of factly. "Today is the best day because tomorrow, we're getting older, and we're dying a bit every day." It's a fact of life that no creature has ever been able to escape.

With the limited amount of time we have on a day to day basis, the Dash was conceived as a personal assistant to help people to achieve whatever they want to do. "I want to (create) something that enables people, helps people and protects them," Hviid said.

The most personal personal assistant

In order for Dash, Bragi's first hearable, to be successful, it must be contextually aware and not distracting to use. And unlike a smartwatch, which uses a visual user interface, also known as a serial immersive interface, Dash uses discrete gestures, voice and auditory feedback.

"When you look at your phone, you have no idea what is around you," Hviid explained. "You're completely focused on that (task). Hearing is different. When you're listening to me talk, you'll know if somebody's knocking on the door. You'll be able to hear everything even as you're focused on what I'm saying, and I won't see you distracted."

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As an assistant, Dash must understand the situation you are in. Why? Because when a device has contextual awareness, it will be able to more effectively assist the wearer: "this means (knowing) where am I, what am I doing and how I am reacting." In this sense, Dash is aiming to be the most personal assistant you could choose.

Next up... ingestibles

This first version of Dash is only the beginning of Hviid's vision for how man and machine will work to improve the progress of humanity.

"I have a vision of what I want to achieve, but it will take beyond my lifetime," Hviid mused. "And that's okay."

That vision involves placing wearables inside your body to help you learn.

"If I could take a pill with a swarm of small nanobots that would (have contextual understanding) and that would enhance me throughout the day, not medically but understanding my senses, that would be it," Hviid explained of his idea for the ultimate wearable.

Sensing my uneasiness about a pill that could turn us into robots and allow us to gain superhuman capabilities with little to no effort, Hviid explained, "The pill is not about cheating. It will enable you to learn through coaching."

If you wanted to become a better singer, the pill won't, for example, take you to the top of the Billboard 100 charts, but it will provide coaching to let you know if you've hit the notes or if you need to stand up straighter to improve your vocals.

The Dash is a fitness tracking hearable, aiming to understand your goals, track your heart rate data and recognize your limitations, but it's clear that its inventor sees the value of wearable tech and ingestibles as going much much further. "It could be about taking a homeless person," he said, "and giving him the tools to become a valuable part of society within a short period of time."

At the start of the ear canal

One of the challenges for Hviid when launching the Dash, as the humble Danish born entrepreneur conceded, is that "people didn't get it." The Bragi Dash is launching at a time when companies like Apple and Fitbit are vying for wrist real estate and that is where the focus of attention remains.

"The ears are beautiful," Hviid said. Essentially, this is because of their proximity to the brain and the millions of nerve endings. The Dash as you can buy it today can measure steps and heart rate data, and, one day, if it can tap into the brain's neural network, it will be able to understand your ambitions, motivations and intentions in the future. It could also be useful to detect epileptic seizures.

When it gains the ability to detect your feelings, a future Bragi hearable will be able to better understand you to become an even better assistant and coach.

Simply put, "the ears are the right place for wearables". Hviid wants to add in more connectivity options, additional sensors, knowledge and services to a future version of Dash.

As a hearable, Dash is already disrupting the wearable space. It's not prone to the same fatigue that wearables suffer from. It doesn't need to be connected to a phone. It does more than just tell time. As connected earbuds with built-in storage, it can also play music without requiring any added equipment.

Get closer

When we achieve the singularity, machines like the Dash will, in theory, be able to help humans better communicate and understand each other.

For example, if you're working with colleagues from a different cultural background, a mesh network of connected Dash devices could help wearers recognize each other's non-verbal responses.

"We need to get away from being distant because of technology to using technology to become closer," Hviid said. "Skype gets me closer to my family, but email doesn't."

In Hviid's vision of the age of technological singularity, smartphones and TVs will be dead relics of the past: "Wearable computing will take over everything, all of it."


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