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FreeWavz wireless earphones use medical-style sensors to record heart rate data

Jon Phillips | June 25, 2014
First they came for your wrists. Next they came for your eyes. Now the wearable tech manufacturers are coming for your ears.

Each earphone weighs 1.5 ounces, and the system is rated for 6 to 8 hours of battery life. I found the FreeWavz to be surprisingly light, and couldn't dislodge them from my ears no matter how hard I shook my head. I didn't get a chance to test audio quality, as I was only handling the rough prototype pictured in the images above.

Fitness updates and ambient noise control

The FreeWavz can report various fitness metrics — heart rate, distance, oxygen saturation, and more — directly through their speakers in a synthesized voice. You can set an accompanying smartphone app to issue these reports according to set time intervals, or in response to a trigger, like when your heart rate increases by 10 beats per minute. A press of a physical hardware button can share your data on demand.

The system also includes two microphones on each earpiece to pick up not only voice commands for smartphone control, but also ambient noise for what FreeWavz calls "environmental listen-through."

In a nutshell, this feature mixes music from your smartphone with noise from the world around you. For example, if you're working out with free weights at the gym, it's probably safe to set your music at 100 percent. But if you're cycling on the shoulder of a busy highway, you might want 25 percent music and 75 percent ambient noise in your left earphone to hear approaching cars. These ratios can be adjusted in the FreeWavs mobile app.

Another cool feature provides a volume governor to protect against hearing loss — because, remember, Dr. Hensen is an ear, nose and throat guy, and he cares about this stuff. The system can get as loud as 120 decibels (and that's very loud), but an algorithm will only maintain excessive volumes for a duration that's proportionate to the risks they pose.

The FreeWavz Kickstarter campaign is looking for $300,000 in pledges in the next 43 days. Backers will get the FreeWavz hardware for $179, and the company expects a final retail product to sell for about $300. Ultimately, the success of a product like this will come down to the accuracy of its bio data, the quality of its audio, and the overall ease-of-use of its hardware and software. A lot can go wrong in such a complex system, but if LG's earphones tell us anything, it's that FreeWavz is moving in the right direction.


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