When most people answer a call, it typically involves activating a wireless headset or bringing a phone up towards a cheek. Innomdle Lab has just launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new wearable that is looking to take a jab at convention by forming speakers from fingertips. The Sgnl smart strap is designed to transmit vibrations through the hand, which become amplified sound upon one touching an ear.
We first became aware of the Sgnl smart strap when it was unveiled as TipTalk at CES 2015. It seems that development has progressed well since then – the fifth-generation prototype has been set as the final Sgnl design. This smart strap can be closely associated with Bluetooth earpieces, given its purpose, mobile connectivity, and built-in microphone. But the major difference is that Sgnl trades the typically tiny speakers for a body conduction unit (BCU).
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Sgnl isn't the first product to eschew traditional audio drivers while still being able to deliver sound – the AfterShokz Trekz Titanium headphones work by directing vibrations to the inner ear through the cheekbones. But unlike head-worn products using bone-conduction technology, the Sgnl smart strap transmits vibrations from the wrist through the hand. By pressing a bare finger against the ear, users are meant to be able to hear voice calls while also blocking out some background noise.
As with your typical earpiece, the Sgnl smart strap pairs to mobile devices (running Android 4.4 or iOS 8 or newer) via Bluetooth. The band itself features an actuator unit that generates vibrations as it presses against the wrist. Users are physically notified of incoming calls, and a press of Sgnl's function button accepts them.
Algorithms embedded within Sgnl are designed to complement the actuator unit by focusing on and amplifying the voice signals. Users can adjust volume levels through buttons located on the band, and a microphone helps to ensure that conversations are two-way. The built-in battery is listed as being capable of lasting for up to four hours of talk-time (seven days stand-by) per full charge.
The Sgnl smart strap is compatible with most 18 - 24 mm classic and smart watches, including the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear, and Pebble Time. Although primarily meant as a watch accessory, Sgnl can be worn as a stand-alone smart band without losing any of its core functionality. An (optional) Sgnl mobile app offers features of call reminders, activity tracking, and smart alerts.
Keep in mind that such technology can and will have some limitations. Even bone-conduction headphones can't deliver the same experience as those with more traditional hardware. And given how Sgnl appears to have a focus on voices and vocal wavelengths, one probably won't be able to walk around with a finger in the ear and receive full music enjoyment.
Innomdle Lab's Kickstarter campaign for the Sgnl smart strap has raised 98 percent of its US$50,000 goal in a day, with another 37 days left of funding to go. Early-bird pledges start at $99, which include Sgnl, a dummy band (for stand-alone wearing), remover tool, connection parts, and a micro USB cable. If production goes according to schedule, backers can expect shipments of Sgnl to start as early as February, 2017.