Google Developing Earbuds to Enhance Hearing Named Wolverine: Report

Google’s parent company Alphabet is working on high-tech hearables capable of distinguishing individual voices in a crowd, according to a report from Business Insider. The project is named Wolverine after the X-men character in reference to his heightened senses.

Listen Close, Bub

The report described Wolverine as sensor-filled devices placed in the ears combining audio hardware and software capable of improving not only how well the wearer hears sounds but separating out different sources. The developers pegged helping a wearer pick out a single speaker from multiple simultaneous speakers as a goal early on. They experimented over several iterations in getting the physical elements like microphones situated to do so, scaling down the size of the device from early versions that apparently completely covered the ear.

Wolverine has been in development since 2018 at Alphabet’s long-term research division, X, which is very apropos for a device named after the mutant superhero. Google executives like Sergey Brin are reportedly favoring the project, regardless of the lengthy timeline. The report named former ARPA-E director Jason Rugolo as the overall leader of the project, with Simon Carlile, who used to be a vice president at Starkey Hearing Technologies in charge of the technical side.

Ear Aids

Combining AI and advanced audio hardware for improving hearing has been garnering more attention over the last couple of years. For instance, the Olive Pro earbuds provide app-based hearing tests and adjustments that make them perform like hearing aids. They’re even registered by the FDA as medical devices. They look a lot like the Apple AirPods Pro, which has its own audio amplification feature, further blurring the line between hearing aids and consumer hearables.

Voicebot’s own data from October found that hearables ownership rose 23% over the last two years among U.S. adults. That could mean a larger customer base interested in extra audio features like hearing enhancement. Google has been playing with potentially integrating hearing aids into its ecosystem for a while. The late 2019 release of Android 10 included support for streaming audio to hearing aids from Android devices via Bluetooth. That laid the foundation for Android hearing aids using Google Assistant, which could be one potential path for the technology involved in Wolverine.


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