The interactive component of Austin’s annual SXSW conference (an event highlighting the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries) has become the butt of jokes about the tech world’s cloistered sense of self-importance. But that doesn’t mean event goers aren’t occasionally treated to something genuinely interesting. For one such example, look—or hear—no further than Bose’s attempt to expand our understanding of Augmented Reality (AR). While anyone who’s met Snapchat’s dancing hot dog or caught anything on Pokemon Go probably thinks of AR as a solely visual-based platform, “Bose AR” showcases how an audio-centric approach to this sort of location-based tech might work.
Using location data from embedded motion sensors and a Bluetooth connection to your phone’s GPS functionality, Bose AR can discreetly pump out contextually relevant sound based on positioning, gestures, or geolocation. This was displayed firsthand at the event as SXSW attendees were led on a guided audio tour of some of Austin’s bars and restaurants, looking at buildings and tapping on the arm of a pair of 3D-printed sunglasses to hear brief descriptions of each location. It’s interesting, no doubt, how a company who has built their reputation on audio equipment, wouldn’t stick to earbuds or headphones. In an interview with Verge, Bose category business manager Santiago Carvajal explains, “Bose is particularly interested in glasses because they’re more comfortable and socially acceptable for constant wear than earbuds, and they don’t signal that you’re busy or unapproachable.”
While the glasses (alongside a modified version of Bose’s popular QuietComfort headphones) seemed to be the vehicle for this AR experience for now, a company display at SXSW teased the possibility of embedding this tech in wearable devices including bike helmets, eyeglasses, and even earbuds. It has also set up a $50 million fund to help startups devise new and useful applications that could help drive platform adoption.
As Bose sees it, the focus on sound over sight could help its AR approach succeed where past attempts like Google Glass failed. “It places audio in your surroundings, not digital images, so you can focus on the amazing world around you—rather than a tiny display,” Bose’s Consumer Electronics Division VP John Gordon said in a statement. “It can be added to products and apps we already use and love, removing some of the big obstacles that have kept AR on the sidelines.”
Of course, just how useful the public finds this technology (not to mention its price point) remains to be seen. Still, credit to Bose for attempting to expand our collective understanding of what an augmented-reality user experience looks and sounds like.