A new fashionable Bluetooth headset is built on technology developed by the Pentagon. Aliph's Jawbone 2 uses NoiseAssassin background-filtering technology
originally developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
NoiseAssassin lets jet fighter pilots on an aircraft carrier deck -- or, say, moms in a busy grocery store -- hear clearly even when background noise is horrendous. According to Aliph, it decides which sound is your voice, and then separates that from other noise.
But technology is not the only reason this new headset is causing a buzz. Jawbone 2 comes in several stylish designs that more closely resemble earrings or other jewelry than a Bluetooth-friendly electronic device. It's about half the size of the first Jawbone headset; weighs about 10 grams; will be available in black, silver, and gold; and has a retail price of about $130. Battery life is four hours of talk time or eight days of standby.
As with the first Jawbone, Jawbone 2's fashionable look was designed by noted industrial designer Yves Behar. The emphasis on style has also affected its functional design, with Jawbone 2 featuring an "invisible button" approach to accomplish a clutter-free look. The user, for instance, operates switches on the phone by lightly pressing the outside shield, which has touch-surface technology.
A small white rubber nub touches the user's cheek, providing a voice-activity sensor that detects vibrations as the user speaks. Aliph said it eliminates real-world noise better than any other headset because it is the only one that can accurately separate speech from ambient noise. The noise-suppression algorithms created by DARPA were required to operate in battlefields, helicopters, and other environments that are among the most extreme noise backgrounds for communication.
According to its maker, Jawbone determines how and when a person is speaking via two microphones and the voice-activity sensor, and then it models the noise and filters it out. By contrast, Aliph said, other noise-eliminating headsets can only guess when the speaker is speaking, and the speech would need to be louder or different from the background to distinguish it.
Chris Hazelton, an analyst with industry research firm IDC, said Bluetooth earpieces are now expected to be both comfortable enough to wear all day and attractive. As more phones become voice-controlled, he said, clear voice recognition through the earpiece will become increasingly important to how people interact with their mobile devices, possibly even surpassing touch.
And Bluetooth-based earpieces may soon become even more popular as more states outlaw holding a cell phone while driving. In California, a new law takes effect on July 1 that requires drivers to use a hands-free device if they talk on the phone while driving.