Hybra Advance Technology on the Future of Wireless Audio
Ryan Wells and Joe Thiel, co-founders of the Traverse City, MI-based startup Hybra Advance Technology, formed their company in 2009 with the idea to build a business plan around the rapidly growing market for innovative wireless audio devices.
“We were discussing what the headsets of the future would look like, how they’d interact [with consumers],” Wells explains.
The headset of the future, they theorized, would be one that didn’t entirely block out the world around you, but let you retain a level of awareness of your surroundings. You could wear it all the time and could hear your music or phone conversations, but you could also, say, pay attention to your kids or co-workers sitting across the table. Or you could wear it while riding a bike and still hear approaching traffic.
What Wells and Thiel have created is a product called Sound Band, a speakerless headset that is crescent-shaped and fits around the back of the ear. Sound Band incorporates surface sound technology similar to the Google Glass bone conduction speakers; it differs in that it has flat panels that vibrate very quickly and, when placed against the ears, essentially turn them into speakers.
“The quality of sound is surprisingly clear,” Wells says. “We’ve gotten many looks of amazement when people try it.”
What Sound Band allows, Wells maintains, is seamless interaction with both the real world and the digital world. Wells pictures a family of Sound Band users on a road trip, with Dad listening to the baseball game, Mom listening to an audio book, and the kids watching a movie, and nobody needing to push pause in order to speak to one another. He imagines it could also be used in interactive gaming, video conferencing, and intra-office communications.
In 2010, an early prototype of the Sound Band won a design and engineering award at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Wells says that recognition opened the doors to some key relationships that allowed the product to get closer to market.
A Kickstarter campaign to raise $175,000 toward final production and manufacturing costs, which ends Friday, has netted about $490,000 so far from 3,600 backers. Wells and Thiel plan to assemble Sound Band headsets in Michigan, hopefully right in Traverse City.
“We’re Michigan boys,” Wells says, adding that Hybra Advance Technology is committed to being part of Michigan’s comeback. “I was frustrated with being in Michigan and always being last. I remember when Michigan was great, and we take great pride in being part of the solution.”