Sentien is Building Hearables That Leave Your Ear Open

Czech startup Sentien is releasing a hearable smart headset designed to be worn all day. The Sentien Audio looks to combine the functions of true wireless earbuds with hardware that make them comfortable enough for all-day use.

Wearable Tech for Comfort

“I don’t think smart glasses are built for all-day use. They can be tiring,” Sentien co-founder Imrich Valach told Voicebot in an interview. “That’s why we are focusing on audio. You can wear [Sentien] all day and not notice it when not using it.”

Sentien Audio look like the usual hook-over-the-ear headphones, but the small cylinder at the end comes to rest directly on the cheek in front of the ear and right below the hairline. Once in place, the device is supposed to be so comfortable that the user might forget it is there most of the day.

“We’ve mostly been testing materials and positions,” Valach said. “We want to make sure there’s no rubbing or discomfort at all. It needs to be so comfortable for the whole day.”

Once in place, the device conducts sound to the inner ear via bone conduction. The point is to leave the ear open and not be a distraction. The device can then connect to a smartphone and perform the functions of most hearables. It can make calls, alert the user about notifications, and interact with the voice assistant on the phone. At the launch, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri will be able to integrate with the device.

“I noticed myself using the AI assistant much more than before,” Valach said. “It’s not distracting me and it keeps me aware more than using my phone or looking [through smartglasses]. It can also play music. Real audiophiles might not like the quality, but it sounds fine for most people.”

Valach couldn’t comment on what kind of funding the company has received, though he did confirm that there has been some investment. The hearables are set to come out in the fall, but the final price has not been set.

“They are not as expensive as smartglasses or a smartwatch,” Valach said.

All-Day Wearables Taking Their Time

Wearable technology is increasingly capable of connecting people to technology comfortably. Smartwatches offer ways to interact with smartphones and other devices as well as a stylistic choice that can be comfortably worn on the wrist as long as any other watch. Smartglasses and hearable technology meanwhile are not quite at that point. Even high-end true wireless earbuds like Apple’s Airpods, are not something to put in and forget about when not in use.

Audio-only wearables are not just in the form of devices for the ear either. The Bose Frames are technically smartglasses, but the devices, which look like regular sunglasses, are actually hearables, with an audio-only interface to connect to smartphones. The experiments with different kinds of hearables point to how consumers will use hands-free wearable tech, at least for a while.

“Audio is the first step,” Valach said. “Then come the other senses.”