Smart earbud lets you control your phone with just a smile

Device could be used to help the disabled
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Sending a text from your wrist is fairly simple if you have the right smartwatch, but an earbud concept could soon see you controlling your phone through a simple smile.

The device is able to pick up facial expressions and translate them into smartphone controls, such as answering a call when you wink or launching an app when you move your head to one side.

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"We're not trying to replace current input methods, just complement them," says Denys Matthies at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research. "You're not always able to take your phone out of your pocket or look down at the screen, but might still like to be able to pause your music or pick up a call."

But how does the tech work?

Well, the prototype earbud involves electrodes that understand changes in the ear-canal shape when you make certain facial expressions. So if someone were to open their mouth, that action causes the earbud to deform in a specific way that can then be detected and mapped into a smartphone function. This could potentially be useful when driving or for those with disabilities.

Currently, the system can recognise five different expressions: smiling, opening your mouth, mimicking a 'Sh' sound, winking an eye and turning your head to the right — all with around 90% accuracy.

Of course, the biggest stumbling block is ironing out the recognition so that the device only responds to actions you want, though a consumer version could look to achieve this by taking context into account. For example, the tech would only kick in when you're receiving a phone call or composing a text.

This seemingly still has some way to go before it's applied consistently enough to become useful, but it appears our ears could soon be getting smarter and controlling other devices around us.

Via: New Scientist

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Conor Allison

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Conor moved to Wareable Media Group in 2017, initially covering all the latest developments in smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR. He made a name for himself writing about trying out translation earbuds on a first date and cycling with a wearable airbag, as well as covering the industry’s latest releases.

Following a stint as Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint, Conor returned to Wareable Media Group in 2022 as Editor-at-Large. Conor has become a wearables expert, and helps people get more from their wearable tech, via Wareable's considerable how-to-based guides. 

He has also contributed to British GQ, Wired, Metro, The Independent, and The Mirror. 


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