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Bluetooth Headset Makes Creative Use Of Capacitive Touch Technology

I had a chance to check out Plantronic's new Voyager Pro UC Bluetooth headset (Fig. 1) with Smart Sensor technology that utilizes capacitive touch to provide context aware operation. I used it on my recent trip to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) held in Pittsburgh, PA (see Intel International Science and Engineering Fair Invades Pittsburgh). I was able to check out most of its standard functions. It is a great headset and it even has an SDK (software development kit). More on the SDK later.

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Figure 1. Plantronic's new Voyager Pro UC Bluetooth headset uses Smart Sensor capacitive technology to detect when a user is wearing the headset.

The Voyager Pro UC looks like a standard Bluetooth headset and has controls similar to most headsets. There is a power swich, a rocker switch for volume and a call control button. It uses a Micro USB connection for charging. I am finally dispensing with the hoard of power supply bricks for recharging things.

Anyway, the Voyager Pro UC works like most high end Bluetooth headsets. Getting started is fast with the QuickPair Technology that has the unit in discovery mode until it is paired for the first time.

It has great audio support via Plantronics' AudioIQ technology and a pair of microphones for noise-cancellation. It has an internal 2-band equilizer that adjusts to background noise. Plantronics' WindSmart Technology employs a stainless steel windscreen, GORE acoustic vents along with filters on the microphone inputs.

The Voyager Pro UC weighs in a 17.5 grams and has 6 hours of talk time and 120 hours (5 days) of standby time. It has voice prompts rather than the low tech beeps that most other headsets employ. Overall, a top notch performer and a great buy.

But it gets better.

The buttons I mentioned are conventional. Platronics reserves its patented capacitive sensing technology for the ear. Yes. It has two sensors that let the unit determine where it is located. It knows when the headset is plugged into your ear and when it is lying on a table.

Plantronics takes advantage of this "Smart Sensor" technology by disconnecting from a phone or PC when you take off the headset. Likewise, it makes the connection when you put it on. The capacitive technology is similar to that found on tablets and smartphones. This feature is obviously very handy. No more manually trying to disconnect the headset when it falls off or you need to switch to speakerphone mode on your smartphone. Likewise, answering a phone is a matter of popping on the headset and pressing the call button.

But there's more.

The unit comes with its own USB Bluetooth dongle for a PC. This is handy because the unit can actually be paired with two devices, usually a smartphone and PC. This is an active connection between two devices and it finally leads to the SDK.

Plantronics is allowing developers to take advantage of the capabilities of the headset because the API provided by Plantronics allows an application to find out the headset state including details like whether it is being worn or if a call is in progress. The Bluetooth support can also detect relative wireless communication power so it is possible to determine if you are walking towards or away from the PC.

This opens up a number of possibilities such as using the phone number of an active call to look up information on a PC about the caller so you could initiate a shared desktop conference call. The software could possibly switch from a cell call to a VoIP call. The Bluetooth proximity information could be used to lock or turn off a screen with sensitive information if you move away from the screen.

Patrick Vermont, Sr. Director, Product Management, at Plantronics, notes that the headset platform is built on "four pillars" that include:

  • Capacitive sensors to determine headset relationship to the user
  • Proximity to a PC via the Bluetooth connection
  • Smartphone/PC connection so the two can exchange information through the headset
  • Personalization via unique serial numbers in all Plantronics devices

Sococo, a social communications company, has the ability to change the presence avatar of its collaboration tools based on whether the user has the headset on or off. Plantronics is also working with Jive Software and their team collaboration tools.

Plantronics' Cary Bran provides a more in depth view of the SDK (see How To Get Your Headset A Tweeting).

So if you are looking to provide a new or better user experience then the Voyager Pro might be the vehicle to do it with. It potentially turns the cloud into the "universal integrator" with real time user interaction.

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