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Waterproof MP3 Player Uses Bone Conduction 257

Posted by michael
from the reverb dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Aquatic training product manufacturer Finis has just released a waterproof digital music portable for swimmers and surfers that claims to solve a problem with such devices in the water. Regular earphones don't work well because they need an uninterrupted air channel to function. What makes the SwiMP3 unique is that it uses bone conduction to stimulate the inner ear and deliver sound."
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Waterproof MP3 Player Uses Bone Conduction

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  • by Amiga Lover (708890) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:35AM (#10652668)
    The only painful bit is getting the 3.5mm jack inserted into the back of your skull.
  • But how deep? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by se2schul (667721) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:36AM (#10652687)
    Cool, but how deep will it go? Can I bring it on a 300' deep scuba dive to entertain me during hours of long decompression stops?
    • Re:But how deep? (Score:4, Informative)

      by RangerRick98 (817838) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:47AM (#10652798) Journal
      Gizmodo [gizmodo.com] pointed out [gizmodo.com] that they didn't mention any depth information in their press release, so it probably isn't designed for diving.
      • Re:But how deep? (Score:2, Informative)

        by se2schul (667721)
        Perhaps they just haven't considered the possibiliies that the bone conductive technology offers them. A scuba diver shouldn't put headphones in the ear, since the water pressure could force them into the ear causing damage (much the same reason a diver can't use ear plugs). With this bone conductive technology you could eliminate that problem. I'd imagine that all that would have to be done is to put the player in a pressure vessel, much like the underwater housings used for video cameras.
        • I'd imagine that all that would have to be done is to put the player in a pressure vessel, much like the underwater housings used for video cameras. or simply inject the player with some kind of resin, since it doesn't need moving parts anyways the only concerns would be an lcd (replace with a button activated LED array?) and the battery (would pressure be an issue for it?)
          • The battery should be OK... battery-powered diving computers are used all the time in scuba these days. (Although I'm barely even a casual diver - can't afford to go much! - so I can't speak for the hard-core folk who do 300' dives. Deepest I've ever gone is 80', which is a whole different ballgame.

            Come to think of it those computers use LCD's too, so as long as those "scale" to farther underwater, no reason you couldn't have a decent underwater MP3 player. If this bone conducting thing works decently, the
      • Gizmodo pointed out that they didn't mention any depth information in their press release, so it probably isn't designed for diving.

        That's too bad... it would make a great audio alert for when your air is running low.. or as a receiver for the surface people to use to contact you verbally..


        • "That's too bad... it would make a great audio alert for when your air is running low.."

          Listening to "Dark Side of the Moon" while cruising through blue space, narc'd and talking to the resident grouper of the local wreck.... Yum.

          "or as a receiver for the surface people to use to contact you verbally.."

          No! No no no! Ye gods no! Underwater is one of the few places the PHBs can't contact us! Please do NOT give them the ability to harsh my narc-buzz with their complaints that their "Internet" needs to

    • Hope you are using a mix instead of "normal" air... from what I remember about my scuba training (early 80s) is that normal air becomes lethal at extreme pressures, coincidentally around 300 feet...
    • If you are doing regular 300' dives, you are probably diving closed circuit. One of my friends puts one of those pencil shaped mp3 players in the exhaust tube of his Inspiration [ambientpre...diving.com].
      He can hear it fine, but the problem is.. so can everyone else :(
    • There is not limitation to depth. The damn thing will go to the bottom of the ocean!

      Oh. You wanted it to continue to function...

      (If you are seriously diving 300', just put the sucker in your dry suit.)

  • Not new (Score:5, Informative)

    by WhatsAProGingrass (726851) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:37AM (#10652694) Homepage
    This may be new to the MP3 world, but this method is nothingnew.

    "The BAHA is a surgically implantable system for treatment of hearing loss that works through direct bone conduction. It has been used since 1977, and was cleared by the FDA in 1996 as a treatment for conductive and mixed hearing losses in the United States. In 2002, the FDA approved its use for the treatment of unilateral sensorineural hearing loss." from here [umm.edu]
    • Re:Not new (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cyberlotnet (182742) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:44AM (#10652763) Homepage Journal
      It's a new use of technologies
      It a mp3 player viable where it never was before
      It doesnt invovle implanting
      So while it may not be "new tech" it is "New and innovating use of that tech in an area it has never been used before"
      Next thing you know your going to say parents shouldn't get excited about having a baby because millions of people have them every day, its just another lifeform in the world nothing else.
      • Still not new (Score:4, Interesting)

        by poptones (653660) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @10:43AM (#10653404) Journal
        Twenty years ago a company that ran ads in all the gadget magazines offered a "bone fone." It was marketed most directly to skiers as a means of listening to their music while skiing without having to muck with earphones and cables.

        Even ignoring the potential problems for folks with inner ear troubles who want to dive (the music via bone conduction could contribute further toward disorientation and dizziness from such problems) the sound via this method sucked then, I suspect it will still suck now. There's a great step from "Wow I was deaf and now am able to hear!" to "...and I want to pay money to listen to lo-fi music through this thing while I'm diving (or any other time) because...?"

        I have a pretty messed up right ear and I am a terrible swimmer, but even still I love the water. One of the things I love most is the difference in sound between out of the water and underwater. Why would anyone want to interrupt that rare peace with noise from the terrestrial world?
        • Yeah, someone gave one of those to me. Saying "the sound via this method sucked" is a vast understatement. If you knew the music well enough, the bone fone would give you just enough hints to fill in the rest with your imagination. A better description might be to say it sounded like listening to the radio being played in the car next to you at the stoplight (with both of you having your windows up).

        • Re:Still not new (Score:4, Interesting)

          by FrankHaynes (467244) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @11:06AM (#10653677)
          I couldn't agree more!

          The sound perceived by bone conduction is typically lo-fidelity, mostly the lows and mid-range frequencies are heard, but the highs are basically non-existant.

          Despite the fact that when most people say 'mp3' these days they expect us to think 'music' (or even 'pirated music'!), I see this as a potential boon to Masters swimming instructors. I will soon be joining a Masters swim team simply to improve my breathing technique and to learn how to turn, and from what I have seen it seems pretty silly to have the instructor screaming at the top of his lungs for the few milliseconds that a swimmer's ear is above the surface while taking a breath.

          This device could allow the instructor to issue guidance and instructions pretty much full-time to an immersed swimmer. Now THAT would be a practical and useful application.

          As for surfing (the REAL kind of surfing where you get wet, not sitting on your fat ass browsing web pages), I know that Craig, Topher, Buddy, Beaker, and Vax would miss my various renditions that I sing while we're out in the lineup waiting for a waves, so I'll pass on this device for that application. Besides, it's healthier to be able to hear the maladjusted sociopath who is threatening you for surfing "his break".
          • Re:Still not new (Score:3, Insightful)

            by jdray (645332)
            I would hope it would be good for surf-zone kayaking [pdx.edu], too. Generally, people out kayaking don't want to be bothered with music, but communication is a huge issue. Those "waterproof" FRS radios don't work past your first wet exit, which is when you need them most.
        • One of the things I love most is the difference in sound between out of the water and underwater. Why would anyone want to interrupt that rare peace with noise from the terrestrial world?

          You'd want to do so because lap-swimming is incredibly boring, and if you're at a practice or are swimming to work out, you're probably just hearing whatever music the lifeguard's got on, or noise from whomever's in the pool area. There's a huge transformation that takes place when you go from being a recreational swimme
    • I seem to recall hearing about a sports radio (maybe with cassette player) for skiers (It looked like a scarf or a head band in the pictures) called the "bone phone", this was sold about 15 years ago if memory serves. However, googling on "bone phone" seems to bring up articles about more recent vintage Japanese cell phones using skeletal sound propagation.
    • Re:Not new (Score:3, Informative)

      by cmcguffin (156798)
      Ahhh, shades of the Bone Fone [pocketcalculatorshow.com]!

      Remember, kids, it's a "new concept in sound technology that may revolutionize the way we listen to stero music"!

      Today's marketing wonks have nothing on their late-70s brethren.
    • I believe it was happening way before that.

      Try as I might, I cannot find any relevent links, but I am sure Ludwig van Beethoven used Direct Bone Conduction to help him hear. He used one end of a broom stick on the piano and rested the other end on his upper teeth. This helped him hear the vibrations of each note.

      I could be wrong, but I'm sure I'm not. I remember seeing it on the TV. Can anyone back me up?
  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:37AM (#10652696) Homepage Journal

    Oh to be a shark. The meat is much more tender without fear-induced adrenaline pumped into it.
  • by Short Circuit (52384) * <mikemol@gmail.com> on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:37AM (#10652697) Homepage Journal
    But the mental picture of an iPod sitting in a fish tank conducting an orchestra with a bone is just...odd.
  • Frequency response? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ByteSlicer (735276) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:38AM (#10652701)
    Does anybody here know the frequency response of cheek bone? I would expect it to filter high frequencies.
  • It looks weird, but (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Megaweapon (25185) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:38AM (#10652708) Homepage
    I wonder if it would also work in generally loud (and not underwater) areas where you don't want to block some sounds with regular earphones.
    • Police and military units have used bone conducting equipment for quite some time for this particular reason; it doesn't block external sound, it works in noisy environments and it prevents eavesdropping.

      This particular product, however, seems (from the pictures in TFA) to be placed in front of the ears, and would therefore block external sounds. It might meet the two other criterion, though.
    • by tindur (658483) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @10:18AM (#10653086)
      And does listening to this harm your ear like normal earphones or would this be a better alternative for those who like to listen to loud music?
    • Well according to the doppler effect, yes. The same way a running faucet when you are standing at a sink will drown out somebody yelling to you from upstairs.
    • I have friends who do mountain rescue work. They've tested a communication system (mike/phones) for use when the chopper is hovering loudly above. The 'phones' are flat and go under the top of the helmet, using bone conduction on the skull. They say it works but the helmet needs to be really tight making it unconfortable; or you need to press the device with a hand hard against your skull to hear. It was a couple years ago, so it may have improved.
  • How does it sound (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OglinTatas (710589) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:39AM (#10652712)
    How does it deal with the accoustics of bone instead of air? In my head, my voice sounds like a sexy baritone, but when I hear my voice in voicemail, it sounds tinny and whiney. My point is that sounds coming through the air sound a whole lot different than sounds that resonate in your head.
    • by VivianC (206472) <internet_update.yahoo@com> on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:52AM (#10652864) Homepage Journal
      In my head, my voice sounds like a sexy baritone, but when I hear my voice in voicemail, it sounds tinny and whiney.

      Maybe you need a better voicemail system...


      • In my head, my voice sounds like a sexy baritone, but when I hear my voice in voicemail, it sounds tinny and whiney.

        I know what you mean, except visually. When I look at myself in a mirror I see a super studly alpha male. But in public, small children point and laugh at me. I curse thee, Narcissus!
    • Free bass expansion! I have the same problem, except instead of sounding tinny, I sound like Fezzik. Anybody want a peanut?
    • Re:How does it sound (Score:3, Interesting)

      by infinite9 (319274)
      Back in 1983, I went on a guided tour of a panasonic site in japan. One of the things they demonstrated for me was a radio that used bone conduction. The cool thing was that you could place it anywhere on your skull and it sounded the same. I sounded at least as good as the walkmans at the time I was listening to. So it may not be able to do highs and lows very well, but neither can a lot of portable headphones. As a side benefit, it didn't leak sound the way most headphones do.
  • No really, I'm serious! This is why speakers are so much more popular than headphones: the sound appears to be coming from somewhere! With good headphones, you can still get a reasonable effect (My sennheisers make it seem like the music is right there at the outside of my ears, which is just where I like it) but with direct stimulation it's just not pleasant to have directionless noise coming from outta nowhere!

    • Nice try, but speakers are more popular than headphones for two reasons, and neither of them are that sound seems to come from somewhere. The first is that in-ear headphones tend to make the ear sore (unless you have expensive custom molded headphones) and headphones can only be two or at most three of the following things: Wireless, inexpensive, lightweight, or good quality. On the other hand, it's pretty easy to get decent quality speakers, as long as you're not looking for the super loud type, which are
    • While true, the bigger reason that loudspeakers sound better than headphones is that your brain is used to processing sound with both ears. In other words, sound from loudspeakers sounds more natural because your right hear hears sound from both the left and right speakers, only it hears the right speaker louder and slightly sooner. (And, obviously, the reverse is true for the left ear). That's what creates the "stereo" effect. This isn't true with headphones - your right ear only hears the right channel. S
  • The Bonephone idea seems to pop up every few years (back to the 70s at least) and never seems to catch on.

    I can't see listening to music in the pool being a killer-app for it, but maybe the RIAA lawyers won't want to get their suits wet coming in after you.

    • Produced by Stevel Spielberg

      RIAA

      Opens with couple on a beach the young woman goes swimming and dons her Swimp3. At first everyhing is nice and romantic but then we hear the music. From the bottom of the sea comes mean ultimate terror. The LAWYER.

  • Better yet (Score:2, Funny)

    by vanourek (826064)
    I am holding out for the lotion-proof OGG player. It's got to support that bone thingy too.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    And it was done in the 80's. For awhile they were hocked on uhf channels before dissapearing completely from the marketplace, about a decade ago. There was a "design" patent on file for the thing, though it may well have expired by now. And yes, it was cool to listen to music underwater.

  • by nels_tomlinson (106413) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:47AM (#10652783) Homepage
    ... a waterproof digital music portable for swimmers and surfers ...

    I wonder what sort of music the sharks prefer with dinner? Maybe the theme from a lawyer show like LA Law?

  • by igrp (732252) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:47AM (#10652797)
    ... military technology eventually being used in civilian applications. The SEALs have used bone conduction for a while now. And according to the Navy Wire Service [navy.mil] this technology has already been transfered to other fields, namely, to be used by emergency response personell. So this is just the next step...

    Bone conduction is actually a pretty good idea: the ear drum is too close to the density of the water to stop any sound wave when in immersion. The bones are hard enough to stop the fast sound waves though. Basically the bones from the neck and skull resonate and carry the vibrations.

  • by RobL3 (126711) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:49AM (#10652820)
    I belong to a very rare subset of Geek known as the Tri-Geek. Guide to spotting the Tri-Geek - bike on car cost more than car, Wetsuit hanging in cube, funny tan lines, %10 body fat, empty Gu packs lying around instead of coffie cups and... an obsesive compulsive need to have the best, coolest, newest equipment available. I WILL have one of these! I don't care if it only holds 16 megs, they're going to sell a ton to people just like me. Now I'm off to find the credit card I hid from myself...
    • I belong to a very rare subset of Geek known as the Tri-Geek.

      I'm a more common type of geek. I sit on my fat ass in a nice air conditioned car listening to my non-waterproof iPod. If it has wheels and can seat a passenger, it must have an engine or I will not own it. I won't be buying this MP3 player.

      Different target markets, I guess.
  • make a very loud noise if you try to listen to something while swimming. And it does not matter if you wear earplugs or not.

    Does this solve this problem as well, or will I hear a second of bubbles followed by a second of "expected" sound?
  • This is NOT unique! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Systems Curmudgeon (573857) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:51AM (#10652847)
    A product that was poorly marketed in the late 1970's was called the "Bone Phone." It was a walkman-style audio player intended for runners, and you heard the music through your bones (no earpiece). I believe it was invented by a Princetonian. If any patents are claimed on this, there is prior art! - systems curmudgeon, AKA: The Precision Blogger http://precision-blogging.blogspot.com
  • IDEA NOT NEW (Score:5, Informative)

    by gp310ad (77471) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:52AM (#10652854) Homepage
    Bone Fone [pocketcalculatorshow.com] is a 70's example employing acoustic conduction through the body as opposed to the evolutionary air to ear route.

    WW-II AT&T 'throat microphone' also made use of 'conductued' sound and it was common for early (20's) radio operators to place their headphones on skull or jaw behind ears rather than over ears. This afforded some degree of 'automatic volume control', protected them from loud static crashes, and made it easier to discern a weak signal when near a strong one.

    Back when I swam a lot we puT speakers inside plastic bags and hung them ver the side of the pool. It was OK when both ears were under water but not practical for listening while swimming. Combined with speakers above the water it wasn't much better. Swimming is pretty noisy and indoor pool acoustics generally suck.
  • by palad1 (571416) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:52AM (#10652862)
    I'll first have to ask Frank if he doesn't mind the company in there.
  • by rickthewizkid (536429) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:55AM (#10652883)
    This could also be useful for folks with certain types of conductive hearing loss, such as Treacher collins syndrome [treachercollins.org], which generally results in small, or no external ear structures, and other similar conditions.

    This technology has been used in some types of hearing aids for years - again, for people who have small or missing external ear canals.

    Just my winamp-in-a-headset's worth.
    RickTheWizKid
  • Regular earphones don't work well because they need an uninterrupted air channel to function.

    Some acoustic physicist please explain to me: Why wouldn't earphones work better underwater? AFAIK sound is propagated through compression waves, so it should work fine underwater as the density is greater. Am I missing something?

    I remember being underwater in a swimming pool years ago, and I heard a watch alarm beeping. It was very clear, like it was next to me, but I found out that it was practically on th
    • Re:Why not? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pomakis (323200)

      Some acoustic physicist please explain to me: Why wouldn't earphones work better underwater? AFAIK sound is propagated through compression waves, so it should work fine underwater as the density is greater. Am I missing something?

      I'm guessing that they would work better underwater if there was an uninturrupted water channel. But I'm guessing the problem is that when you go swimming, especially if you're wearing earphones or earbuds, there's bound to be a lot of trapped air in your ears along with the

  • The H2Audio underwater mp3 system as been out for scuba diving for a while (a year?) and uses a hydrophone I beleive. They sit on the outside of the ear (you can't put anything in the ear as changing pressure might force it into the ear).

    Oceanic Scuba Equipment [oceanicworldwide.com]
  • You can blow out your eardrums.

    YAY TECHNOLOGY.

  • by litac (617509)
    Yeah, yeah - others have mentioned it, but my first thought when I saw the headline was - someone else is trying to bring back 70's tech. I remember first seeing ads for the Bonephone in Omni Magazine. They were marketed as the geek's alternative to the uber-cool Walkman. The version I recall was a long flat unit that you wore around your neck, with the sound emitters resting one your collar bone. I also seem to recall that it was pulled from the market because people were experiencing bone damage (spon
  • MGS (Score:4, Funny)

    by accelleron (790268) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @09:59AM (#10652933)
    Colonel: Snake! Can you hear me?
    Snake: I tried so hard... in the end... doesn't really matter...
    Colonel: Snake?
    Snake: I had to fall... lose it all...
    Colonel: Who the f**k gave him an MP3 player?!
    Naomi: err...
    • Re:MGS (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by geeveees (690232)

      Linkin Park - In The End, for those that wonder, a great song (like all the others of LP)

  • by Opalima (744615)
    Only 30 songs? How many laps of the wading pool is that exactly? I find it unusual that the unit holds such a limited number of songs.
    • by igrp (732252)
      Well, at least in theory, you could use low-bitrate mono MP3s without any loosing any quality. With bone conduction, there is only a single source of transmission and not two (ie. your ears).

      A MP3 played on this player will sound like it's "all around you", coming from all directions. It's omniphonic sound. That's why there's not really a point in having stereo MP3s. You could convert them to mono and squeeze in more songs.

  • medical issues? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ifnkovhgroghprm (687862) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @10:03AM (#10652968)
    I've seen a bunch of devices lately that transmit signals through the body in various ways. This one uses your bones to transmit audio. I'm wondering if they've done enough analysis to see what kinds of medical problems might pop up after prolonged use of this device. I wouldn't want rapid onset of osteoporosis to occur because of an MP3 player...
    • I'm wondering if they've done enough analysis to see what kinds of medical problems might pop up...

      Here, you can test this yourself:

      Stick your fingers in your ears and hum.

      Dead yet? Keep tryin'...
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @10:16AM (#10653074) Homepage Journal
    Though most of you here are too young to reemember it, there was a product that used 'bone conduction' back in the early 80's..

    Sold by DAK and later ( i think ) sharperimage..

    It was a radio.. And it fit over your neck like a towel.. And rather expensive from what i remember, but cool
  • I think it would be more fun to have an underwater speaker that uses the water to conduct the sound. I remember I was in a pool once and someone at the other end of the pool heard my hour chime under water. It seems that water carries sound much better than air, but IANAP(physicist).

    It would be neat to blast music to people underwater, and when you came out of the water you wouldn't be able to hear it at all.

    I'm sure I'll get modded off-topic, but it still seems like a good idea.
  • Does anyone know a source for bone conduction microphones? I'd like to play around with them with some electronic projects. So far the only ones I've found are already attatched to really expensive devices.
  • Engadget had this three days ago.
  • I'm not trying to scare anyone here but... hearing while swimming can mean your life! Wearing these could prevent you from hearing the SHARK MUSIC start and getting OUT of the water in time! These should be banned... or at least come with a VERY strong warning on the label.

    Safety first!
    -Don.
  • by kfstark (50638)
    From the non-audiofile swimmer perspective, I just want something to listen to and don't care about the difference in sound quality as long as it sound decent.

    I just received my waterproof MP3 player from swimman and it is a nice little unit that can clip to your goggle strap. I haven't had a chance to try it in the pool because of the rain, but I am looking forward to it.

    My only complaint is that I would like to listen to audiobooks from iTunes, but they are in the wrong format for the device and hymn do

  • Great now I can share my Mp3s with all sorts of basal tetrapods, look out horned lizards you're going to hear Britney like you never did before.

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