Engineering 101

Make Dumb Headphones Intelligent

Engineers can turn 'dumb' headphones into smart ones by turning them into sensors

Rutgers engineers created a cheap and easy way to transform headphones into sensors that can be plugged into smartphones, identify users, monitor their heart rates, and more. Dubbed HeadFi, the innovation is based on a small plug-in headphone adapter that turns a regular headphone into a sensing device. HeadFi allows users to avoid buying a new pair of smart headphones with embedded sensors to have a smart solution.

A peer-reviewed Rutgers-led paper on “earable intelligence,” will be formally published in October at MobiCom 2021. HeadFi turns two drivers already inside all headphones into a versatile sensor. It works by connecting headphones to a smartphone. It does not require adding auxiliary sensors and avoids changes to headphone hardware or the need to customize headphones. By plugging into HeadFi, a converted headphone can perform sensing tasks and play music at the same time.

The engineers conducted experiments with 53 volunteers 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, 96.8 percent to 99.2 percent on heart rate monitoring and 97.7 percent to 99.3 percent on gesture recognition.

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