Imagine walking through the echoing halls of a haunted hotel. There is a voice, it’s moving closer. There is no one around, only voices that surround you. You adjust your spectacles, tapping the side of the glasses. Everything is quiet now.
Bose just might be able to make this vision a reality. Recently Bose has been working on the lesser-known aspect of augmented reality, augmented sound. Many people are familiar with the concept of augmented reality and all the images that may overlay their vision with this technology. However, augmented sound takes that concept and makes it auditory. Augmented sound adds dimensional sound to reality.
Here at the 2018 SXSW Conference, Bose has come to show off their latest work with augmented sound. They, like many companies have rented out a bar and transformed it into a pop-up gallery of their work. A sign outside proudly proclaims that this is the Bose bar now, and you are welcome to visit (if you are part of this festival).
The smell of fresh paint still lingers inside of the recently-revamped interior of the building. Several people are standing in a row to watch this demonstration by Santiago Carvajal, Director of Consumer Electronics Research Strategy and Vision at Bose.
Carvajal holds up a pair of spectacles and describes his vision of sound. He states that their goal is to “get people to look up.” He explains that in some ways, wearing headphones can be an isolating experience. These glasses can also transmit sound, in a similar manner as headphones, but the glasses create a greater sense of openness. You are still aware of the world around you and the glasses, unlike headphones, “keep us socially available to others.”
The glasses seem fashionable. The have a slightly-winged, round goggle shape, sometimes referred to as “hipster glasses.” They are black with a slightly rough surface texture, owed to their method of construction. These prototypes are 3D printed, a popular way for small-batch prototyping that lets companies easily modify their design.
After wearing the glasses the sound is fully immersive. Every noise emitted from the temples of the glasses is clear and definitively placed. You know exactly where it’s coming from. The moment the glasses are removed the sound mostly disappears. Their effect overall is similar to headphones, but they do not require fully covering the ear.
Carvajal states that "the open ear audio that you heard here is something that we've been working on for years, but we really only perfected over the last few months.” He explains that “It's really challenging to do, to deliver good sound with something that is right around the ear.”
According to Carvajal, Bose has expansive plans for this new technology. The “developer’s kit” will come out this summer and it will allow other people to make sound experiences with their technology. He elusively explains that "we're working with some really high-profile folks."
One of the next steps for this technology is to create “soundtracks” for real life experiences. Bose will take “an artist that is very familiar with the area that can actually compose a music piece for that area.” Basically, the vision is that a person can walk through a place and listen to a custom soundtrack that was created to pair artistically with that place. Imagine, A Song for the Laundromat, a sonic experience designed to enhance your laundromat adventures.
For now, this sunny day on Rainy Street, Bose is offering a glimpse of this new technology in the form of a walking tour with augmented sound. A smart phone on a lanyard transmits to the glasses, which are unattached and seem quite indistinguishable from most glasses frames.
Nodding the head starts the tour. As you walk, you may turn to face a variety of landmarks. Tapping the side of the frames activates the augmented experience. A friendly voice offers information along the lines of “you are looking at Thom’s market.” It may also provide interesting background information about the region.
The tour is simple overall, but it gives a window into the potential of such augmentation. Carvajal creatively explains other possible tours. A haunted hotel experience is one example he gives, an experience where a person may be surrounded by spooky ghost sounds, all the while knowing that they can tap the side of their glasses to escape at any point. There are many more, but the world will have to wait and see what comes next for augmented sound.