Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to a possible next-gen wearable AirPods family wearable device with directional audio.
In Apple's patent background they note that audio headsets have acoustic speakers that sit on, over, or in the ear of the user. They can connect to other devices operate as sources of audio signals that are output by the speakers. Some headsets can isolate the user from ambient sounds and even provide noise-cancellation features. However, many audio headsets are somewhat obtrusive to wear and can inhibit the user's ability to hear ambient sounds or simultaneously interact with others near the user.
Apple's invention provides a wearable device with an audio module that is operable to provide audio output from a distance away from the ears of the user.
For example, the wearable device can be worn on clothing of the user and direct audio waves to the ears of the user. Such audio waves can be focused by a parametric array of speakers that limit audibility by others. In this way, the privacy of the audio directed to the user can be maintained without requiring the user to wear audio headsets on, over, or in the ears of the user.
The wearable device can further include microphones and/or connections to other devices that facilitate calibration of the audio module of the wearable device. The wearable device can further include user sensors that are configured to detect, measure, and/or track one or more properties of the user.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below illustrates a front view of a user wearing a wearable device with an audio module for directing sound waves to the ears of the user.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 above illustrates a front view of a wearable device with an audio module having a first orientation with respect to a support structure; FIG. 3 illustrates a front view of the wearable device of FIG. 2 with the audio module having a second orientation with respect to the support structure.
While the wearable device #100 is shown attached to an object #50 such as clothing worn by the user, it will be understood that the wearable device can be coupled to other objects. For example, a wearable device can be attached to an object near or in contact with the user, such as furniture, linens, pillows, and the like.
Further to patent FIGS. 2&3, the audio module #150 can include a parametric array #160 of speakers #162. The parametric array is controlled to radiate beams of sound waves toward ears of a user. As used herein, a parametric array of speakers is one that produces sound through the heterodyning of two acoustic signals in a non-linear process that occurs in a medium such as air.
Apple adds that beamforming allows the array #170 to simulate a directional microphone pointing toward the sound source. The directivity of the array reduces the amount of captured ambient noises and reverberated sound as compared to a single microphone. This may provide a clearer representation of a sound source, such as speech and/or voice commands from the user's mouth.
For more details, review Apple's patent application 20220095049.
Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.