How To Make Ordinary Headphones Smart

Do you know you can transform your “dumb” headphones into smart ones? Rutgers engineers have discovered a low-cost and easy method by modifying ordinary headphones into sensors that can be plugged into smartphones, monitor their heart rates, identify their users, and perform other functions.

Their gadget, called HeadFi, is based on a small plug-in headphone adapter that converts an ordinary headphone into a sensing gadget. Unlike smart headphones, regular headphones lack sensors. HeadFi would allow users to enjoy sensing features with the regular headphones avoid having to buy a new pair of smart headphones with embedded sensors.

“HeadFi could modify millions of existing, ordinary headphones worldwide into smart ones with a simple upgrade,” said Xiaoran Fan, HeadFi chief inventor. He is a doctoral graduate from Rutgers and completed his research during his final year at the university. Currently, he is working at Samsung Artificial Intelligence Center.

Peer-assessed Rutgers-led research on the device, which results in “earable intelligence,” will be formally published in October at MobiCom 2021, the top global conference on mobile and mobile computing and wireless networking. In the wearable category, headphones are among the most popular devices worldwide. They continue to enhance as new features appear, such as touch-based gesture control the paper notes. Such features usually depend on auxiliary sensors, such as microphones, accelerometers, and gyroscopes are available on many smart headphones.

Smart headphones
Source: HeadFi

HeadFi modifies the two drivers already inside all headphones into a handy sensor, and it operates by syncing headphones to a pairing device or gadget, such as a smartphone. It does not need adding extra sensors and bypasses modifications to headphone hardware or the need to customize headphones, both of which may increase their weight and volume. By plugging into HeadFi, a modified headphone simultaneously work as a sensing device and play music.

The developers conducted trials with 53 participants using 54 pairs of headphones with estimated prices ranging from $2.99 to $15,000. HeadFi can achieve 97.2 percent to 99.5 percent accuracy on user identification, 97.7 percent to 99.3 percent on gesture identification, and 96.8 percent to 99.2 percent on heart rate monitoring.

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