Today’s History Lesson: Bone Conduction Technology Through the Ages

It all began with the creation of sound. Well, perhaps we shouldn’t be so blunt. Sound isn’t quite a creation, it’s more so a fundamental property, or reaction, of elements in the universe. However, acoustics as we know them to be are not understood as elaborate combinations of physical or chemical reactions in our world, but rather a medley of simple tones and harmonies strung together to create symphonies of sound.

AfterShokz-Abstrack Soundwave

While sound is commonly received through a form of a speaker, conducting noise off of the air, AfterShokz has innovated that concept further. Our use of bone conduction technology redefines the traditional method of listening to audible sound. That said, we did not invent this technology, we improved it for your use, and packaged its power in the form of truly unique headphones. So where did the road to bone conduction headphones begin? Let us walk you through the history of bone conduction starting nearly 250 years ago.

Bone Conduction Beginnings

Beethoven. No, not the dog that comically enraged a suburban family’s father who eventually saved him from a psychopathic veterinarian. We are interested in the great composer, known for his classics ‘Fur Elise’ and the ‘9th Symphony’. Many recognize his name as one of the three B’s, Bach, Brahms and, the man of the hour himself, Ludwig van Beethoven.

AfterShokz-Beethoven-Statue-2013

From a young age, many learn that the 18th century composer was also deaf. It is believed he suffered from a severe form of tinnitus, an ailment that causes a ringing in the ears. At the time there was only one practical method of listening to sound with a hearing impairment, the ear horn. This large cone was placed with its mouth open facing the ear and would amplify noise to help one hear. However, this was no solution. Beethoven reinvented the wheel.

The master composer used a simplified version of bone conduction to emit sound into his head. By attaching a metal rod to the piano, Ludwig was able to bite down on it. From the base of the rod, vibrations cursed up its shaft to Beethoven’s jaw where the conduction began. The sound then traveled from his jaw into his skull, allowing him to hear the beautiful music he was creating. Despite Beethoven’s innovation, bone conduction wasn’t seen again for well over 200 years.

AfterShokz-Felin-Soldier-Scoping

Bone Conduction History Continued

Now let’s fast forward to the 21 Century. At the start of 2001, an engineering team began rethinking a nearly five-year-old project, FELIN. This high tech military outfit is made up of two key elements. For starters, FELIN equips a modified FAMAS rifle. This light machine gun is armed with a telescopic sight capable of enhanced day and night vision as well as an integrated video camera. Most important to this system is the helmet. FELIN equips its soldiers with top of the line optical accessories and an advanced communications unit. Amazingly enough, the communications system uses bone conduction technology to help infantrymen communicate easily despite the intensity of their surroundings. FELIN wasn’t ready for use on the frontlines until 2010, but the technology is amazingly innovative. Even in the 2012 military memoir ‘No Easy Day’, pseudonym author Mark Owen stated that bone conduction was used in the military maneuver to take down Osama Bin Laden.AfterShokz-No-Easy-Day-Cover

Bone conduction has been applied to the military market for a decade. However, this technology had a narrow frequency response, limiting its application only for voice communication. The frequency response for communications needs to be 300-3400Hz, the range of human audible tones, while music needs to be 20-20kHz. Knowing this, AfterShokz engineers developed a dual-suspension system to expand that frequency to nearly twice than before, making it possible to enjoy music. What’s more, we reduced the size of the bone conduction transducer to effectively fit into a consumer product.

Interesting Contemporary Applications

The military aside, bone conduction has deemed itself an applicable technology elsewhere in the consumer electronic market. Google Glass released information early in 2013 stating that Project Glass will contain a “vibrating element.” This has led many to suspect that Glass will be featuring bone conduction technology. Allowing you to use the massively incorporating technology without missing out on the sounds around you.

AfterShokz-Google-Glass-Bone-Conduction-Design

Even Sky Deutschland, a German media company, is testing a unique concept for trains. Their idea incorporates and age-old method of advertising, subliminal messaging. Perhaps you have heard stories of classic TV shows and movies adding snippets of advertising into its programming. Or, maybe, you remember Tyler Durdens profane snippets added into the movie Fight Club (1999).

AfterShokz-Fight-Club-Tyler-Durden

Regardless, this brief and commonly unnoticed reference is thought to encourage the viewer to want that certain item. Be it a candy bar or expensive car, the idea is the brain wants what it sees. Well, Sky Deutschland believes you want what you hear, specifically in your dreams. Their idea is to vibrate messages and commercials from train windows into the brains of passengers resting their heads against the glass. Interesting, perhaps even a little sinister?

Most recently we’ve seen hearing restored by bone conduction. Edinburgh man, Brian Hogg, has regained much of his lost hearing with the Bonebridge, a bone conducting hearing aid. The device is composed of bone conduction gear and a piece of Hogg’s own bone. It was implanted by NHS Lothian surgeons with very effective results.

Clearly bone conduction has evolved tremendously in the past 250 years. And another 20 years from now, we’ll likely see even larger advancements. What applications do you think are possible with bone conduction? What different methods of audio reception can you envision? When else has bone conduction integrated itself into our lifestyles? Let us know with a comment below!

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