While a rakish fedora is all well and good in the style stakes, can it read your brainwaves, enhance your sensory perception, or provide an ultra-immersive 3D gaming experience? Precisely. For those times when fabric alone, however immaculately crafted, just won’t cut it, here’s our rundown of ten of the most tech-infused wearable headpieces under development or available to buy, including emotion-controlled animal ears and, of course, Google Glass.
10. Emoki Animal Ears
Until recently, controlling furry bunny ears with your thoughts alone was largely the preserve of, well, bunnies. All that changed, though, when San Francisco-based startup Emoki released these animal ears in 2013. Featuring a base headset (the Necomimi, made by NeuroSky) that senses the brain and body’s electrical activity, the Emoki ears point upwards when the wearer is concentrating or shocked, drop down when he or she is relaxed, and wiggle back and forth when they are “in the zone.” Great for first dates or job interviews, and available in bunny, bear and fox varieties, a set of Emoki ears can be yours for $89.95. All you’ll have left to do is ponder how you made it this far in life without them.
9. Eidos by Tim Bouckley
“We are used to controlling the world around us, to find the settings that suit us best. What if we had the same control over our senses?” That’s the question behind British industrial designer Tim Bouckley’s Eidos concept. Comprising two separate pieces of technology, the Eidos Audio (pictured) and the Eidos Vision, Bouckley’s design aims to provide real-time augmentation of the wearer’s sight or hearing. The Eidos Audio features a software filtering system that removes background noise from audio it has captured with its directional microphones, allowing users to listen very selectively in otherwise noisy environments. The isolated sound is passed not only to the wearer’s outer ears by headphones, but also to their inner ears by transducers worn in a mouthpiece, giving the strange sensation that the person you are listening to is actually speaking directly inside your head. Meanwhile, the Eidos Vision utilizes a head-mounted camera and display to produce an effect similar to long-exposure photography, but overlaid in real time on whatever you choose to look at. While the device is currently at the prototype stage, we’d love to see this tech hit the shelves in the near future.
8. Melon Headband
With its futuristically minimalist styling, the Melon headband would look entirely at home on any episode of Star Trek. Yet this aesthetic simplicity belies its clever function: the headband makes use of wireless EEG (electroencephalography) technology to monitor electrical activity in the wearer’s brain. This data is interpreted by the Melon app, which then gives the user tailored information regarding their focus whilst they’re carrying out different activities; and it then suggests ways that users can get better at concentrating on the tasks in hand. The Melon system attracted close to $300,000 funding on its Kickstarter site, and the first units are expected to start shipping in November 2013.
7. Imec Wireless EEG Headset
Belgian nanoelectronics firm Imec has developed this prototype headset to offer an ultra-low-power method of monitoring the brain’s electrical activity. The wireless unit is capable of recording up to eight channels of EEG information at the same time and conveys the data to a remote receiver that can be located as far as 33 feet away. When the system is configured to record only a single channel of data, it can operate autonomously for up to 70 hours. As well as monitoring EEG data, the headset also records electrode-tissue contact impedance – basically the quality of the connection between the electrodes and the skin.
6. Oculus Rift
Unless you’re prepared to be physically sucked into the software architecture of a mainframe computer à la Tron, the Oculus Rift is probably as close as you’re going to get to the virtual world. Riding a wave of next-big-thing buzz, the head-mounted virtual reality display attracted over $1 million of funding to its 2012 Kickstarter campaign in under 36 hours. The Kickstarter campaign closed at over $2.4 million, and the company behind the product, Oculus VR, has gone on to secure investment of $16 million to develop the unit. Aimed very specifically at the gaming market, the Oculus Rift promises an unparalleled immersive experience, with a 110º viewing field plus super-low latency – meaning there’s no lag between the wearer’s head movements and the corresponding movement on-screen. Development kits for the Rift – priced at $300 – began shipping out in March 2013, and the consumer version, the Rift 2.0, is currently in development.
5. Motorola HC1 Headset Computer
Motorola’s HC1 headset is a mobile computing device that promises to “redefine how work gets done.” Featuring voice-recognition software, loudspeakers that sit close to the ear, microphones and a micro-display, plus an accelerometer and gyroscope to facilitate control with head movements, the HC1 is a true hands-free system. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities enable the HC1 to link up with an array of other mobile devices, while an optional high-resolution camera allows pictures or video to be streamed from the site of activity to others on the network, which is particularly useful for providing expert support in areas of limited accessibility. Still, with a price point of $4,000 to $5,000, all that enhanced productivity doesn’t come cheap.
4. Emotiv Insight
With its sweeping ergonomic lines and discreet sensors, the Emotiv Insight certainly has the semblance of a product fit to call itself “next-generation brainwear.” And although it looks super-stylish, its tech component is also firmly in place. Developed by bioinformatics company Emotiv Lifesciences, the Insight is a wireless five-channel EEG headset that picks up a range of brain activity and converts it into accessible information for the user. As well as measuring cognitive performance such as levels of attention and engagement, the Insight also recognizes various facial expressions and can construe rudimentary mental commands, including push and pull. Intriguingly, Emotiv also says the headset can recognize more abstract commands such as “levitate” and “disappear.” Rumors that an early prototype was sold to David Copperfield are as yet unconfirmed.
3. Sony Wearable HDTV
Taking televisual immersion to the next level, the Wearable HDTV from Sony features two HD OLED screens, one for each eye, to ensure you can fully experience what you’re watching. Given the price – just shy of a thousand dollars – there are certainly cheaper ways to watch television, but few are arguably this compelling, and the devices are available to pre-order. The Wearable HDTV produces the virtual equivalent of a 150” screen, to display 2D or 3D games and movies, while audio is taken care of by the built-in virtual 7.1 surround sound headphones. Wireless technology means you don’t have to just sit in one place while wearing this bad boy, although we’d advise against wearing it next time you go out for a run.
2. Zeiss Cinemizer OLED
Here’s another set of multimedia video glasses, this time from German optoelectronics firm Zeiss. The Cinemizer OLED glasses feature a streamlined, lightweight design, with portability and comfort a primary consideration. The two individual high-resolution OLED displays produce a virtual 40” 3D picture, and the integrated battery supplies a maximum of six hours’ power on a single charge. One of the most unique features of the Cinemizer is its configurability for wearers of spectacles: each screen can be individually altered via an adjustable wheel to accommodate a prescription of between -5 and +2 diopters for each eye. It’s also fully connectable to computers, consoles and smartphones, meaning that users can enjoy watching movies on the go. This sleek unit is available to purchase for around $790.
1. Google Glass
Arguably the archetypal piece of high-tech headgear, Google Glass is shaping up to be a significant step on the road towards ubiquitous computing. Though widespread smartphone uptake means that mobile computing is already at many people’s fingertips for a large part of their day, you still have to physically look at your screen to see the data. Google Glass eliminates this pesky and time-consuming step. Featuring an optical head-mounted display, Google Glass enables users to get online in supreme style and includes a smartphone-similar display. What’s more, it can be operated by simple voice commands: you say “Okay Glass, take a picture” and you can probably guess what happens next. Currently in development care of Google’s future-tech lab Google X, Google Glass is expected to hit the shelves in early 2014 – and with a price point “significantly lower” than the $1,500 tag on the Explorer Edition development kits. Phew.