Count headphones as earphones
"Hey, your pulse is below 120, you should run a little faster!". Or: "You have now driven ten kilometers, give it your all again on the last five!"
"The Dash" headphones could soon whisper such slogans in athletes' ears. The Munich start-up Bragi wants to mass-produce them. The wireless earplugs should not only play music, but also measure and calculate various data with the help of tiny sensors - steps and speed, for example, or calorie consumption. The intelligent headphones then derive tips from this.
From the beginning of February to the end of March, Bragi raised money for his headphone project on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. In the end, the start-up had almost 16,000 supporters who invested a total of more than three million dollars. This makes "The Dash" the most financially successful Kickstarter project in Europe to date.
So far, "The Dash" is just a bet that Bragi founder Nikolaj Hviid will keep what he promises. "We have to deliver an extremely good product," says the 39-year-old. Supporters order and pay for the product in advance via Kickstarter. If everything goes according to plan, the first thousand pairs of earplugs will be delivered in October.
A computer in each ear
So that the recipients can hear something, Hviid and his 16 employees are currently working on the technology for the headphones in Munich. They don't need much for this: there are eight desks with computers in the office near the main train station. Two white wooden panels lean against the walls, covered over and over with colorful post-its. In the corner behind the door, software engineer Eric Hirsch is soldering connection cables while designer Arne Loermann is working on the "The Dash" packaging on the computer. On a small table by the window is a 3-D printer that has spat out models for "The Dash" until the makers were satisfied with the shape.
The shape is important because the headphones have to fit snugly. There are two prototypes on Nikolaj Hvid's desk. They look almost like normal in-ear devices - only without cables and larger. Hviid takes one of the black plugs and twists it in his right ear. "We have three sizes that now fit 94 percent of all ears," he says.
A small computer will soon be in every headphone. So far, these have been even larger development boards that Bragi still has to shrink so that they fit into the headphone cases. The computer can store four gigabytes of music, and it also converts information measured by the sensors on the outside. Users can also connect "The Dash" to their smartphone via Bluetooth - and then also make phone calls, because there are microphones on the headphones.
Why is he the first to try his hand at smart headphones? Hviid believes it is because of the intricate shape that the computers must be. Too big, too angular - in between he didn't believe that it could work. Origami, a Japanese paper-folding technique, provided the solution. With their help, Bragi wants to fold the individual computer parts and thus bring them into shape.
Hviid founded his start-up a good year ago. The mechanical engineer got the idea while jogging. After a long break from exercising, he ran out of breath after just a minute - he wanted tips, right on site and tailored to him. As managing director of the Designit agency, the Dane often worked on headphone designs. That gave him the idea of developing the helper he was looking for in the form of headphones. He quit his job and initially worked with designer Loermann in a "house that could be demolished. Really like a start-up," says Hviid.
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