Devialet announces wireless earbuds

High-end speaker manufacturer Devialet is launching its first pair of earbuds. Called Devialet Gemini, the in-ear earbuds feature active noise canceling and cost £279 in the U.K. — they will be available in the coming weeks.

The Devialet Gemini are completely wireless, which means that there’s no cord between each earbud, like on Apple’s AirPods. The company has developed three new patents for the product.

They feature cascading decompression chambers, which means that they should stick in your ears and provide adequate pressure. In-ear earbuds require a good seal.

Image Credits: Devialet

There are two microphones in each earbud for the active noise cancelation feature and a dedicated microphone for calls and other voice interactions. Like on the AirPods Pro, there are multiple ANC modes. You can remove background noise altogether or activate transparency modes so you can hear what’s happening around you.

You can choose between three levels of ANC and two levels of transparency mode. The company is releasing a mobile app so you can control those settings. There’s also a touch button at the rear of the earbuds that you can use to control music playback, noise cancelation or voice assistants.

The earbuds automatically adjust the audio signal when the earbud moves. It uses a microphone to detect a change in frequency. The app can also tell you if you’re using the right tip for your ear.

The company promises eight hours of battery life without ANC and six hours with ANC activated. The case provides 3.5 charges and works with wireless chargers using the Qi standard or a USB-C cable.

Image Credits: Devialet

Density’s Open Area radar tracks people in a space, precisely but anonymously

Everyone in the world is rethinking shared spaces right about now, and part of that rethink is understanding how they’re used, minute by minute and day by day. Density’s tiny ceiling-mounted radar finds and tracks people unobtrusively but with great precision, letting the powers that be monitor every table, chair and office.

Okay, in some ways that doesn’t sound great. But don’t worry, we’ll get to that.

Density began looking into creating large-scale people-monitoring tech after seeing the possibilities latent in its entryway-monitoring Entry device, which tracks people coming and going using infrared imagery. They settled on radar as a technology that has the range and precision to cover hundreds of square feet from a single point, but also lacks any capability of easily identifying someone.

That’s an important point, as many are wary of installing people-monitoring software on ordinary security cameras. The potential for abuse is high simply because the imagery is easy to match with identities. So while it may be cheaper to layer some computer vision on top of a regular camera, there are non-trivial risks and shortcomings.

Image Credits: Density

Not to mention few like the idea of security cameras watching over every desk and computer, able to read confidential documents and see every minute motion. The system Density has created is very much focused on presence — is someone in that chair? Is someone in that office? How many people are in this room?

The radar produces point clouds, but not the detailed ones you see in the lidar systems of self-driving cars. It really is more like a cloud than anything else — a small, upright cloud standing near the fridge in the office kitchen. When someone else comes in to grab a coffee, there’s another, separately tracked cloud. But there’s not enough detail to tell people apart, or, without careful scrutiny anyway, features like size or clothing.

A GIF showing a person sitting down at a desk and the radar point cloud of her.

Image Credits: Density

Of course you could track the clouds back to their desks and retroactively identify them, but really there’s no shortage of ways to track people now. Why install a new one that’s more useful for other things?

Because the data from something like this is certainly valuable. Cafes can watch occupancy rates of seats and A-B test different layouts; gyms can see which machines are used the most and require maintenance or cleaning; offices can repurpose unpopular meeting rooms or furniture; retail stores can find cold racks. The software that comes with the devices can also tell how far people are from each other, how long they tend to stay at various spots, and whether certain thoroughfares are used more than others.

A screenshot of the Density software in action.

The data is aggregated in real time, so a shared office space can easily tell — without asking or double-checking — which desks are empty and have been all morning. Restaurants similarly wouldn’t have their table counts at the host station lag behind reality. (As you can imagine, these applications are primarily for non-pandemic times, but now may be the perfect chance to install the devices.)

Add a layout image to the real-time cloud and all of a sudden things get really real:

Image Credits: Density

Each of the Open Area sensors, which are about the size of a BLT, can cover 1,325 square feet from up to 20 feet off the ground. That’s a circle about 38-40 feet in diameter, into which you can fit a couple meeting rooms or about 20 desks. That’s more than competitive with overhead optical cameras, plus the privacy benefit.

If you’re curious how they look in a real office area, here’s a little “seek and find” puzzle for you. They’re hidden in each of the following office photos. I’ve put them in this gallery in order of difficulty.

Be ready for a bit of sticker shock at first, though. An Open Area sensor costs $399 and there’s a $199 yearly license fee for each one you use. So kitting out a decent size office will probably get you well into the five-figure range. Of course, anyone who runs a space that large knows the costs of things like doing space usage studies (people actually sitting there, watching who uses what) and other useful gear like badge-based entry.

“We’re an order of magnitude less expensive and an order of magnitude more useful,” said CEO Andrew Farah.

Density already counts some major enterprises among its customers, and while the entire office and retail world is being turned upside-down right now, tools like this are likely to figure into whatever comes next. Being smart about how you use a space not only saves money, it’s safer and probably makes for happier people in it.

Elvie adds a non-electric breast pump and cups to its growing femtech portfolio

Two years after launching its debut “next-gen” connected breast pump, femtech hardware maker Elvie has added to its portfolio a softer, hands-free breast pump that uses natural suction.

The Elvie Curve is described as “a wearable, silicone breast pump that allows for gentle hands-free expression when feeding or pumping from the other breast — or to express full breasts” — suggesting the U.K.-based startup intends for it to supplement the more expensive (and electronic) Elvie Pump.

The Elvie Curve is priced at RRP £49.99 versus around £250 for the Pump. The Pump is also slightly more capacious, holding up to 5 oz of milk compared to up to 4 oz for the Curve. The Curve is similarly designed to sit discreetly inside a bra.

As the Curve uses natural suction, there are no batteries (nor connectivity) involved. But Elvie says a valve lets the user control the suction strength — for a comfortable, low-effort experience.

The startup has launched another new (non-connected) device today, called the Elvie Catch (RRP £29.99). This consists of a set of two slip-proof milk collection cups to prevent leaks, also designed to fit neatly inside a bra.

Elvie says the cups can be used “during feeding, pumping or on the go”.

“Unlike many other breast shells and nipple pads, Elvie Catch sits securely in a bra to prevent leaks and is reusable, collecting up to 1 oz of breastmilk per cup so nothing goes to waste,” it adds in a press release.

Last year the London-based startup raised a $42 million Series B funding round, led by IPGL, which it said would be used to support the release of four additional women’s health products. (The company’s debut product was a connected pelvic floor exerciser, which it continues to sell as the Elvie Trainer.)

Commenting on its freshly expanded portfolio in a statement, CEO and co-founder, Tania Boler, said: “Elvie Curve and Elvie Catch mark the next steps in Elvie’s mission to modernise breastfeeding and pumping products so they fit into the lives of real, modern-day mums.

“We launched the silent, wireless and wearable Elvie Pump two years ago to make pumping a hands-free experience that empowers mums to pump on their own terms. But we know that the challenges of breastfeeding go beyond pumping.

“Breast milk is liquid gold, so these products are designed to make the most of every last drop – as well as fitting seamlessly (and discreetly) into the lives of mums, like all Elvie products!”

Both new products are slated as available to buy from today in the U.K. and the U.S. via Elvie’s website.

Google to pay out $1B to publishers to license content for new Google News Showcase

Google has long had a frenemy position with regards to the world of news: It can direct a lot of traffic to online publishers, but that’s only if people bother to click on links after getting the gist of the story from Google itself (and that’s before considering Google’s AMP approach on mobile that keeps users on Google URLs after they click). Publications built around advertising have felt beholden to the search and ad giant, leading those that have survived over the years to try to forge alternative revenue models around paid content, events and more to offset that dependency.

Now Google is offering another, complementary, option to these publishers, or at least some of them.

Today the company unveiled its latest effort to claw back more credibility in the news publishing world, launching the Google News Showcase. Sundar Pichai, CEO of the search giant, said in a blog post that it would collectively pay some $1 billion to news publishers in licensing fees “to create and curate high-quality content” for new story panels that will appear on Google News. Initially, these will appear on Android devices and eventually also on Google News on iOS.

The new initiative is going live today, after it was initially unveiled by Google in broad strokes earlier this summer.

Google News Showcase is rolling out first in Germany and Brazil before expanding to other markets, according to Pichai. The company has already inked deals with 200 publications in Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, the U.K. and Australia. The first publications to launch will be Der Spiegel, Stern, Die Zeit, Folha de S.Paulo,BandInfobaeEl Litoral, GZH, WAZ and SooToday. India, Belgium and the Netherlands will be next on the list for expansion after the other countries go live, Pichai said.

As you can see here, Google News Showcase seems primarily to be focused on how news is consumed on mobile devices rather than desktop computers.

Like Apple with its efforts around Apple News, as a major mobile platform operator Google has worked on a number of ways to play nice with publishers and the news publishing industry over the years, some on its own steam and some in response to pressure from outside.

They have included funding local news research initiatives; its $300 million news initiative that includes providing grants to journalists and journals, as well as research; emergency grants to publications in hot water; and building tools to help journalists do their work.

Picking Germany as one of the first markets to roll this out is notable, given that publishers in the country were involved in a years-long lawsuit over copyright fees related to how their content was repurposed in Google.

Google ultimately won that case in court, but arguably, it didn’t win in the court of public opinion. Given that Google continues to face a lot of antitrust scrutiny in Europe and elsewhere, it’s important that it works (or at least appear to work!) on rehabilitating its image as too-powerful and uninterested in the fate of institutions that are central to how democratic society works — like the free press.

As Pichai notes, this latest effort is different from what Google has built before because it’s based on publishers doing the curating and creating themselves.

Google is infamous for starting a lot of projects, rolling them out and then abandoning them when they fail to get market traction. With that understanding, and knowing that it’s one of the biggest companies in the world (not just in tech) it has in theory committed to the Showcase for three years, but Pichai said the plan is for it to “extend beyond the initial three years,” with the company “focused on contributing to the overall sustainability of our news partners around the world.”

It’s not clear how much money individual publishers will make out of this initiative, nor how or if it could be used to drive business models that don’t cut Google in on the action. The latter has been a prime focus for many publishers for the last several years. At best, similar to Apple News, it could help publishers hedge their bets or even bolster them (as in the case of paywalls and driving people to using them), rather than cannibalize those other efforts. Google, at the least, seems aware of the stakes and seems to argue that it’s not the only reason publishers are feeling the heat.

“The business model for newspapers—based on ads and subscription revenue—has been evolving for more than a century as audiences have turned to other sources for news, including radio, television and later, the proliferation of cable television and satellite radio,” wrote Pichai. “The internet has been the latest shift, and it certainly won’t be the last. Alongside other companies, governments and civic societies, we want to play our part by helping journalism in the 21st century not just survive, but thrive.”

Everything Google announced at its hardware event

This year, Google’s annual hardware event consisted of a brisk 30 minutes of pre-recorded promotional videos, but the company managed to pack a number of new product announcements into that time.

To make things easy for you, here’s a quick rundown of everything that Google announced, including the Google Pixel 5, a new TV interface and an upgraded smart speaker.

Google Pixel

Google’s latest mobile flagship, the Pixel 5, comes in a 100% recycled aluminum body and offers reverse wireless charging — in other words, you can use the Pixel 5’s battery to charge other devices. There’s a 6 inch display and the whole package costs $699. Pre-orders started today, with the phone available in nine countries on October 15.

In addition to the Pixel 5, Google also announced the 5G version of the Pixel 4a, which will cost $499, with specs that are closer to the Pixel 5 than the existing 4a. This one will be available in Japan on October 15, then launches in the United States and elsewhere sometime in November.

Both phones come with improved cameras, including a new ultrawide lens in the back. And beyond the hardware, Google also said it’s introducing a new Google Assistant feature, which will stay on the line for you when you make a call and then get put on hold, then send you an alert when someone picks up.

Google TV and Chromecast

Image Credits: Google

Google TV — at least in this iteration — is the company’s name for a new interface bringing streaming, live TV and other services together in one place. It includes most existing streaming services while also offering live TV via YouTube TV. And Google seems to be putting a lot of resources into the voice search experience.

The interface is included as part of the new Chromecast with Google TV, which also adds a remote control to Google’s streaming dongle and costs $49.

Nest Audio

Image Credits: Google

Nest Audio is the successor to Google Home, the company’s mid-range smart speaker. Google said the device will offer more bass, increased volume and clearer sound. And the form factor is closer to the Google Home Mini and Google Home Max. The Nest Audio smart speaker will cost $99 and will be available starting on October 5.