Sowlo technology focuses the audio content directly and solely to the user’s ears. Sowlo technology focuses the audio content directly and solely to the user’s ears. Sowlo technology focuses the audio content directly and solely to the user’s ears. (Photo: Noveto)

Startup invents invisible headphones – and, yes, they actually work

Camera sensors find your head and send audio streams directly and solely into your ears, with nobody else able to hear it.

Headphones haven't evolved too much over the years. Sure, Apple's iconic white earbuds got us through hours of music on our iPod Shuffle, while newer Bluetooth headsets allow us to listen to our favorite podcasts without being tethered to a device. But overall, the concept of headphones has remained the same for decades. That is, until now.

Imagine headphones without headphones. Yes, you read that right.

It's the brainchild of an Israeli startup called Noveto and it goes something like this: Audio from a computer or a TV leaves the machine. Using camera sensors, the audio finds your head and goes directly and solely into your ear – without anyone near you being able to hear the sound. If you move, the camera sensors can move the virtual headphones with you. It seems like something out of a futuristic "Black Mirror" episode.

Watch the video below to see how it works:

Think of all the places this technology could come in handy. A passenger could be listening to the car radio without disturbing the driver. You could be enjoying your favorite rock band at your office cubicle and none of your co-workers would be bothered. You could be watching TV late at night and not disturb anyone else in the house. The technology could even work with an alarm clock, so one person gets woken up while the person next to them can remain blissfully asleep. Everybody gets their own "audio comfort zone."

The founders hatched the idea back in 2011 and they unveiled the product at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It soon picked up several industry awards, and they are now working with companies like Dell and others to bring the product to market later this year. "It could change sound as we know it," wrote tech blogger Cate Lawrence.

The company takes their technology very seriously, employing a head of physics and algorithms from Princeton University as well as a science director with a Ph.D in condensed matter physics from Israel's Weizmann Institute.

Co-founder Tamar Shani, who studied engineering at Tel Aviv University, calls the device virtual headphones. "We give you the sensation of headphones, but with no headphones on you," he explained.

Noveto is the latest Israeli company to tackle the ever-growing headphone market. A team of audiologists, musicians and software engineers in Tel Aviv recently invented earbuds that adapt to your own "earprint." The headphones actually conducts a hearing test on your ears and determine if one ear hears better than the other and adjusts the sound accordingly. Silentium, an Israeli-based company that specializes in noise-cancelling technology, rolled out wireless "quiet bubble" tech that blocks out noise from all the other seats on an airplane.

So what's up next for Noveto? Shani said the company is already working on the next generation of virtual headphones. It will allow audio to be sent to multiple people at once. So imagine two friends watching a movie on a couch, while a third friend enjoys silence in a nearby chair. What's more, you'll be able to send different audio streams to each person. So one person can, for example, get an English stream, while your friend from Mexico hears the Spanish version.

It seems headphones are finally, and blissfully, evolving.


Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows