Apple invents bone conducting EarPods for better iPhone noise cancellation

Posted:
in General Discussion edited September 2014
As part of an ongoing effort to improve the quality of iPhone voice calls, Apple is investigating a unique take on bone conduction technology that uses sensor-laden EarPods and multiple microphones to cancel out unwanted noise.

Earpods


Apple's technology is outlined in a patent filing titled "System and method of mixing accelerometer and microphone signals to improve voice quality in a mobile device," which was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Wednesday.

The invention proposes a set of EarPods, or similar earphone device, be fitted with accelerometers to detect vocal chord vibrations that propagate through a user's skull when they speak. Using output data generated by the sensor and a microphone array disposed within at least one earbud, a spectral mixer creates a mixed signal for parsing out non-vocal noise.


Source: USPTO


To detect voiced and unvoiced speech, the accelerometer may be tuned to sample low frequency vibrations indicative of such signals. By measuring output signals, the invention effectively creates an accelerometer-based voice activity detector (VAD) capable of distinguishing voiced speech from ambient vibrations.

At the other end of the equation are microphone arrays that monitor acoustic signals for a user's voice. Apple mentions inclusion of both front-facing and rear-facing microphones in a single earbud, as well as optional embodiments with sets of mics installed along the device cable that come together to create a beam forming array.




As with the accelerometer-based VAD, the acoustic version recognizes voiced and unvoiced speech, but at a naturally higher energy level. Apple compensates by conditioning and amplifying the accelerometer VAD signal to levels sufficiently equal to microphone output. This is key to the process as the two signals will be analyzed against one another during the noise canceling operation.




To mitigate errors in voice pickup, the accelerometer and microphone output signals are compared and contrasted, meaning final VAD output is an "and" function of the two VAD systems. Applying threshold analysis to the power signals results in a speech-to-noise power signal that can then be fed to a noise suppression module. To reach an accurate assessment of ambient noise, a spectral mixer generates a final output signal by removing the respective noise power signals from both microphone and accelerometer power signals.

Finally, a switch feeds the final VAD output through for transmission, while a noise suppressor removes unwanted environmental noise from the signal.

Alternative embodiments include closed type earphones, mono-signal earbuds and variations on the spectral mixer. Other technical considerations like amplification levels are also detailed.




It is unknown if Apple is working to make bone conduction headsets a reality, but the company has already taken steps to deploy noise cancellation technology in its devices, as evidenced by dual-microphone setups for its iPhone and MacBook product lineups.

Apple's bone conduction noise canceling earbud patent application was first filed for in March 2013 and credits Sorin V. Dusan and Aram Lindahl as its inventors.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 17
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,693member
    Any improvements in hearing technology is welcome as far as I am concerned. I just hope Apple push more into actual hearing aid technology. I know they have partnered with companies in this field but as I age and my hearing goes south, I am really hoping for genuine Apple hearing technology complete with AI, auto adaptive systems and iOS integration sooner than later.
  • Reply 2 of 17
    "Vocal cord", not "vocal chord", guys.
  • Reply 3 of 17

    Perhaps Radio Shack will sue Apple for infringing on the technology used in the 20+ year-old TRC-508 walkie talkies (RS cat. no. 21-408). The financial award might even allow Radio Shack to continue operations for another few months!

     

    Or, will Apple's technology infringe on Jawbone's ideas from the late-1990s? Hmmm.

     

    Surely, Apple will improve on both designs. :)

  • Reply 4 of 17
    Now if they could figure out how to cure tinnitus with a pair of headphones...
  • Reply 5 of 17

    I think you have confused patenting for inventing.

  • Reply 6 of 17
    . Samdung here is the recipe.. Go copy...
    Why isnt apple guarding/hiding theses patents a little more carefully! .?
  • Reply 7 of 17
    Amen to that. I just spoke with a neighbor my age who just dropped 3,000 on hearing aids. They're helping a lot, but the hearing aid industry is ripe for the kind of disruption Apple has caused for other industries. I think people forget that a hearing aid is as much a "wearable" as an Apple Watch or Google Glass.
  • Reply 8 of 17
    The headline reminded me of this from my childhood:

    http://blog.modernmechanix.com/bone-fone/
  • Reply 9 of 17
    The headline reminded me of this from my childhood:

    http://blog.modernmechanix.com/bone-fone/

    I tried one of those and was not impressed. Can still vividly remember seeing those ads.
  • Reply 10 of 17

    My sentiments exactly. People with tinnitus or hearing limitations that make it difficult to distinguish sounds from background noise could really benefit from Apple applying its know-how here. Not to mention Apple being able to tie a hearing aid to an iPhone app for greater customization and functionality. 

     

    Plus you know a Jony Ive hearing aid is going to look a lot better than those things on the market now, with all their weird protrusions and ridiculously small knobs and switches.

  • Reply 11 of 17
    My sentiments exactly. People with tinnitus or hearing limitations that make it difficult to distinguish sounds from background noise could really benefit from Apple applying its know-how here. Not to mention Apple being able to tie a hearing aid to an iPhone app for greater customization and functionality. 

    Plus you know a Jony Ive hearing aid is going to look a lot better than those things on the market now, with all their weird protrusions and ridiculously small knobs and switches.

    An Apple hearing aid? Count me in.
  • Reply 12 of 17
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by zroger73 View Post

     

    Perhaps Radio Shack will sue Apple for infringing on the technology used in the 20+ year-old TRC-508 walkie talkies (RS cat. no. 21-408). The financial award might even allow Radio Shack to continue operations for another few months!


    Patents are enforced for 15 years only. If the technology is more than 20 years old, it is free for everyone to use.

  • Reply 13 of 17
    make them dang things stay in the freaking ear!!!!
  • Reply 14 of 17
    Any improvements in hearing technology is welcome as far as I am concerned. I just hope Apple push more into actual hearing aid technology. I know they have partnered with companies in this field but as I age and my hearing goes south, I am really hoping for genuine Apple hearing technology complete with AI, auto adaptive systems and iOS integration sooner than later.

    Indeed.

    Seems to me that Tim Cook could do with some hearing aid, or at least some extra sense of taste, in view of the U2 keynote.
  • Reply 15 of 17
    Now if they could figure out how to cure tinnitus with a pair of headphones...

    They already have. There was an article on Seeking Alpha about it recently.
  • Reply 16 of 17
    malaxmalax Posts: 1,598member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Yojimbo007 View Post



    . Samdung here is the recipe.. Go copy...

    Why isnt apple guarding/hiding theses patents a little more carefully! .?

    I think you're missing the point of patents.  Patents allow the idea to be public while protecting the inventor with the right to commercialize it for a defined period of time.  The alternative to patents are trade secrets, but in this day and age, that's basically a fool's gamble.

  • Reply 17 of 17
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Benjamin Frost View Post





    They already have. There was an article on Seeking Alpha about it recently.

     

     

    http://otoharmonics.com/public/

     

    It's not a cure, it's way to train the brain to 'ignore' the signals created by the brain. I really wonder if this is effective in severe cases.

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