At the dawn of the 19th century, one of the greatest composers of all time was facing a frightening reality. Ludwig van Beethoven, whose music career had taken him from child prodigy to renowned piano virtuoso, had established a formidable name for himself on the European stage. Frequenting the salons of Viennese nobility, he had begun to follow in the wake of young composers Mozart and Haydn, composing quartets and symphonies of staggering calibre. At just twenty-eight years of age, however, his bright future was threatened by a sudden eclipse: hearing loss, which began for reasons unknown to this day and which was agitated by a severe form of tinnitus.
The first recorded evidence of this hearing loss dates back to 1798, and Beethoven’s journey into a silent world continued gradually thereafter. By 1814, he was almost completely deaf. And yet many of the masterpieces for which the artist is best known today were created after this first incident; the Moonlight Sonata was penned in 1801, Für Elise in 1810, and Symphony No. 9 — one of the most recognizable pieces of classical music to this day — was composed between 1822 and 1824.
Many are familiar with stories of Beethoven composing with his head on the floor or the piano in order to feel the sound vibrations. He also was known to compose with a rod or a pencil, one end between his teeth and the other on the piano, in order to gauge the notes through his jawbone. Far fewer are perhaps familiar with the exact science behind this. Known as bone conduction, these rudimentary methods exercised by the great Beethoven have been studied and perfected in the centuries since, leading us to 2019 and the introduction of one of the most ground-breaking pairs of headphones we’ve seen yet.
This product was designed by Louis Berger, a Munich-based industrial designer, who could also be considered something of a prodigy; at just 20 years of age, and in his second year of studies at the Munich University of Applied Sciences, Berger has already interned at several prestigious companies around Munich and also at Nest Labs Inc. in Palo Alto, California. It’s an impressive resume that has culminated in the creation of Duo, a pair of headphones capable of far more than the obvious function. Duo can play music, of course, but it’s also a health monitor with built-in LTE connectivity.
The concept design for Duo (these are pre-market, sadly!) promises advanced features like integrated Na+ ion sensor monitors capable of tracking hydration levels and the user’s metabolism. An additional sensor monitors heart rate and blood pressure, making this an ideal accessory for professional (and amateur) athletes. (The superficial temporal artery is actually located in front of the tragus of the ear, surprisingly making it one of the best spots on the body for accurate heart rate readings.) An imaging process tracks the frequency of blood flow as well as changes in arterial volume.
Duo also holds promise for the elderly; two built-in drivers remain in constant communication to gauge the movements of the head. Used in tandem with other wearable sensors, Duo has the potential to detect falls by way of neuro haptics, further making them an indispensable option in the health-and-safety sector.
As for its bone conduction capabilities, Duo transfers sound directly into the auditory canal in an unobtrusive manner via the Aid Loop add-on, which works to efficiently amplify the sounds of the surrounding environment. They can also be operated silently, responding to the micro-gestures of the body or to on-device tap and swipe gestures. This makes them ideal not only for situations in which VUI (Voice User Interface) is inappropriate and uncomfortable, but also for those who are non-verbal or those with limited verbal abilities.
The Glass Adapter, another add-on, allows the earpieces to be worn comfortably at the same time as a pair of glasses. (Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? Well, surprisingly, not every earphone allows for this.)
The standard Ear Loop is made from a robust elastomer that boasts shape memory. It is highly flexible thanks to its interior three-dimensionally interlocking wires, which means it’s easy to find an optimal fit or make adjustments on the fly. This, combined with the fact that the materials are highly water and UV light resistant, definitely ups the Duo’s promise in the sporting world.
Despite the impressive technological capabilities of Duo, there’s no sacrifice made when it comes to aesthetics. Colours, materials, wearing options, sensors, and specific user-centric solutions are all customizable, meaning you’ll actually look forward to donning these devices — and that you’ll feel pretty cool wearing them.
Curious to learn more about advanced wearables? Check out these funky mixed reality glasses from nreal.
Photos via Louis Berger.