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SAN FRANCISCO – Alexa may be ready to go out on the town.
Amazon is reportedly working on a pair of “smart glasses” that would bring its digital assistant Alexa to a user even when they were out and about, according to a report in the Financial Times.
The glasses would wirelessly tether to a smart phone carried by the wearer.
Unlike Google’s failed Google Glass experiment in 2013, in this case users would hear but not see anything from Alexa. It would also not be able to take pictures or video, the privacy issue that lead to a widespread consumer backlash against the Google product – though it’s since been reborn as a workplace tool.
The glasses would transmit sound directly to the wearer, allowing him or her to hear Alexa speaking to them and presumably allowing them to speak to Alexa.
The technology this is based on is called “bone-conduction audio.” Instead of transmitting sound waves through the air to the listener’s ear drums, bone conduction systems send vibrations though the jaw bones or check bones. The sound is received directly into the user’s inner ear, bypassing the ear drum altogether.
Used by the military and in some hearing aids, the technology is not new but has become much better in the past few years. In fact, that’s how Google’s Google Glass device transmitted sound to the wearer.
In the case of glass frames, it’s likely the vibrations would be sent through the portion of the frames that touch the bones of the wearer’s head behind their ears.
Bone conduction is almost inaudible to anyone but the person wearing the device, so Alexa could talk to the wearer without everyone in the vicinity hearing.
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Wearable access to computing in various forms is coming into better focus. Facebook this summer patented augmented reality smart glasses that would allow wears to see superimposed images of virtual objects in the real world.
Amazon is also planning on releasing smart home hardware devices that would allow viewers to see video from various parts of their home or outside on their Echo Show screen, the Financial Times reported.
The Echo line of Alexa-enabled products has been a surprise hit in the past two years, with “tens of millions” sold according to Amazon.