On January 24, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Google that reveals new information about their Project Glass eyewear. Their eyewear, technically acknowledged as being a head-mounted display (HMD), is going to have unique audio capabilities built right into the frame of their eyewear. Google describes their miniature audio system as involving at least one vibration transducer that functions as a speaker. Some of Google's ideas for their eyewear audio system include some rather new concepts. On the surface it's easy to dismiss them as off-the-wall, but until Google executes on them, we have to at minimum, give these ideas a chance to come to market before judging them. Taking risks at times could be the spice of life or end up hanging you. Time will tell how this will play out in the market.
Technically speaking, Google states that an exemplary HMD may employ vibration transducers that are commonly referred to as bone-conduction transducers. However, standard applications of bone-conduction transducers involve direct transfer of sound to the inner ear by attaching the transducer directly to the bone (or a pad that is adjacent to the bone). An exemplary HMD, on the other hand, may include a bone-conduction transducer (or another type of vibration transducer) that transfers sound to the wearer's ear via "indirect bone conduction."
More specifically, an exemplary HMD may include a vibration transducer that does not vibrationally couple to wearer's bone structure (e.g., a vibration transducer that is located so as to avoid substantial contact with the wearer when the HMD is worn). Instead, the vibration transducer is configured to vibrate the frame of the HMD. The HMD frame is in turn vibrationally coupled to the wearer's bone structure. As such, the HMD frame transfers vibration to the wearer's bone structure such that sound is perceived in the wearer's inner ear. In this arrangement, the vibration transducer does not directly vibrate the wearer, and thus may be said to function as an "indirect" bone conduction speaker.
In an exemplary embodiment, the vibration transducer may be placed at a location on the HMD that does not contact the wearer. For example, on a glasses-style HMD, a vibration transducer may be located on a side-arm of the HMD, near where the side-arm connects to the front of the HMD. Further, in an exemplary embodiment, the HMD may be configured such that when worn, there is space (e.g., air) between the portion of the HMD where the vibration transducer is located and the wearer. As such, the portion of the HMD that contacts and vibrationally couples to the wearer may be located away from the vibration transducer.
In another aspect, because the vibration transducer vibrates the frame of the HMD instead of directly vibrating a wearer, the frame may transmit the audio signal through the air as well. In some embodiments, the airborne audio signal may be heard by the wearer, and may actually enhance the sound perceived via indirect bone conduction. At the same time, this airborne audio signal may be much quieter than airborne audio signals emanating by traditional diaphragm speakers, and thus may provide more privacy to the wearer.
In a further aspect, one or more couplers may be attached to the HMD frame to enhance the fit of the HMD to the wearer and help transfer of vibrations from the frame to the wearer's bone structure. For example, a fitting piece, which may be moldable and/or made of rubber or silicone gel, for example, may be attached to the HMD frame. The fitting piece may be attached to the HMD frame in various ways. For instance, a fitting piece may be located behind the wearer's temple and directly above their ear, or in the pit behind the wearer's ear lobe, among other locations as shown below in patent FIG. 6 with patent points #616-Left and #616-Right.
In exemplary embodiments, Google states that the fitting pieces or any type of couplers may be attached to, embedded in, and/or enclosed in the HMD frame at various locations. For example, fitting pieces may be located in various locations so as to fill space between an HMD frame and wearer's body, and thus help the HMD frame vibrate the wearer's bone structure. For instance, a fitting piece may be configured to contact a wearer's ear, nose, temple, eyebrow, nose (e.g., at the bridge of the nose), or neck (e.g., at the pit behind the ear lobe), among other locations.
Other arrangements of a vibration transducer or transducers on a side-arm and elsewhere on the HMD frame are also possible as shown above in patent FIG. 5.
Google's patent application 20130022220 was originally filed in Q4 2011.
On a relevant note, Google's co-founder Sergey Brin was seen on a NYC subway lately testing out Project Glass or was he just setting up some nice marketing shots to keep their hype alive. Was he testing the unit or just trying to look cool? For now, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
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