It's small, subtle, and appears to be a lot less distracting than other wearable tech seen today. It can be controlled by the blink of an eye or a twitch of the nose. The “Earclip-type Wearable PC,” hopefully a tentative name, is being developed and tested by Japanese engineers, and it takes “hands-free” to a whole new level.
The Earclip is a small (.59 ounce) bluetooth-capable personal computer that simply clips onto the ear, as its name suggests. The most interesting aspect of this PC earpiece is how it operates. Its infrared sensors monitor tiny ear movements that are made by different movements of the mouth, nose, and eyes. This advanced device functions by users making tiny eye twitches and tongue clicks that trigger even tinier changes in their ears, like a bodily chain reaction.
"We have made this with the basic idea that people will wear it in the same way they wear earrings," said engineer Kazuhiro Taniguchi. It’s not just fashion-focused; the developers emphasize the hands-free aspects, calling it a “third hand.”
Because it’s operated by teeth clenches and winks, users are able to engage in a full range of motions once they get used to the controls. This makes it ideal for sports-enthusiasts, caregivers, and the disabled.
This all seems very cool to me, like something out of a spy movie. But I can't help to imagine what it would look like in use. Maybe if this souped-up bluetooth earpiece becomes popular and widespread, we won't notice groups of people twitching their eyes and wagging their tongues to operate a GPS system.
These outlandish motions seem to be the biggest roadblock for marketing to groups that don’t need this sort of device, like caregivers and the elderly. Will the common consumer be onboard with this earpiece? Perhaps the device can become more fine-tuned so that it accepts small, less conspicuous, movements to function. If this doesn’t happen, it seems we’re doomed to a winking, Google Glass-clad, future population.
Like most wearable tech, this PC earpiece can be linked to your smartphone so you can make use of a slew of apps that are bound to accompany the device upon its release. Some of its other features include GPS capability, a compass that can sense altitude, a barometer to monitor weather changes near the wearer, and of course, speaker and microphone.
In Japan, this important development speaks to a strong desire to monitor the aging population in the country. Another version of this device could also function as a hearing aid that monitors pulse, body temperature, and other health-related factors. And remember the “I've fallen and I can't get up!” commercials? Well, the elder version monitors that, too, tracking sudden changes in bodily acceleration and alerting family members and emergency personnel.
Multi-use devices always seem like a prudent notion in our current landscape of ubiquitous computing and shrinking electronics. Just be sure to tell Grandpa to take it out before he hops on a roller coaster.
The Earclip is expected to become commercialized in April of 2016.