Listen! This is also Augmented Reality

Overshadowed by all the latest augmented reality buzz is augmented reality for our ears. Find out how audio augmented reality is radically transforming how we interact with the world of sound around us.

 

In case you haven’t heard – or experienced it – augmented reality (AR) is all the rage.

We’re surrounded by apps that add a new visual layer to our personal environment, enabling us to drive virtual cars, send holographic messages, paint graffiti in thin air, preview virtual furniture in our living rooms and do lots of other cool stuff.

All I can say to Apple, Google and the other industry giants who have embraced this new technology is “Welcome to the club!”

That’s because augmented reality for the world of audio has been around for decades. In fact, you were an early adopter of audio augmented reality the first time you slipped on a headset and turned up your favorite music, got calendar reminders or used it for navigation. Audio AR enables us to control our personal soundscape by placing an audio layer over the real audio that surrounds us.

Unlike the big splashes visual AR has been making – think the Pokemon Go craze a few years ago and the new apps flooding the market today – augmented reality for audio has been slowly but steadily creeping into our consciousness.

The technology became a household name with the 2013 movie Her, which saw Joaquin Phoenix fall in love with an operating system that acted like a digital girlfriend version of Siri or Alexa. While the movie has done plenty to help ease the transition and adoption of audio AR, its real-life applications are poised for a transformational leap forward.

An Ear to the Future

As one of the pioneers of audio AR, we at Jabra are now on our third generation of the Jabra Elite Series, a full lineup of different wireless and true wireless (no wires between the two) earbuds. Apart from offering hear-through properties and concert-hall-like sound, they feature tiny motion sensors that can track your movement, allowing you to effortlessly monitor speed, distance and calories burned while walking, running or biking. They even track your heart rate and estimate your VO2 max, which determines aerobic endurance by measuring the maximum amount of oxygen the body consumes.

You can even pair our audio devices with digital personal assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant to use your voice to access the world of online products and services, navigate your smartphone and even respond to texts and emails without ever looking at your phone.

And when navigating the busy city streets, simply hit the hear-through button on your earbuds to let in the surrounding sounds of traffic and other hazards, all the while continuing to stream your tunes or podcasts. This is the essence of augmenting reality and taking control of your soundscape.

What’s most surprising is that the technology I’ve just described is actually a couple years old. The new stuff promises to be even more amazing!

The audio AR capabilities featured in the newest technologies will allow us to take unprecedented control over our personal soundscapes by adding situational awareness, artificial intelligence and much more. We’ll still be able to experience the world around us, but we’ll also be able to filter out and choose what we want to hear and how we’d like to hear it.

Here are just a few of the virtually unlimited ways audio AR will soon transform our relationship with our world:

  • Staying informed. How about a supercharged version of your next museum or art gallery visit? Ultra-accurate GPS embedded in your earbuds will identify your precise location and even the direction you’re looking, then tell you more about what you’re seeing from Wikipedia or another source.
  • Staying sane. Looking for some inner calm? Insert your earbuds, head for the woods and adjust your personal EQ to isolate and amplify soothing bird songs while dampening other, more chaotic surrounding noises.
  • Staying focused. You know the feeling of not being able to focus on a single sound source, usually during a conversation among several people or in a meeting with a lot of background noise? Audio AR will let you “zoom” in on the source and filter out the rest. The future possibilities this holds are virtually endless, including the potential for a crystal-clear, studio-like concert experience.

So as we welcome all the shiny new visual AR apps, let’s remember that audio AR has been transforming how we hear the world for decades – and the best is yet to come.