New device opens lines of communication
April 16, 1999
TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- From an unassuming apartment block in downtown Tokyo a small company is catching the attention of the world.
For Temco, size means nothing. It isn't a household name and only employs around 15 people, but each year it reaps a hefty 600 million yen ($5 million) in sales. Temco manufactures high-tech communications gadgets -- mostly for the Japanese police, U.S. army and occasionally for the private sector.
Its latest gadget, which has yet to hit the streets, is a redesigned headset for mobile telecommunications.
It doesn't look like much, but its functions are revolutionary. Gone are the earplugs and the intrusive mouth piece microphones usually seen on conventional headsets.
Instead it uses a property common to all bones -- including the skull -- to transmit sound to and from the unit. Bones are ideal conductors of sound because they are porous. The ear is also capable of picking up audio without the help of its external organs -- which is how we hear our own voices and why we rarely recognize it from a recording.
The "Voiceducer," as Temco calls it, leaves the ears free to capture surrounding sounds as well as communication signals, says head researcher Mikio Fukuda.
"This headset is specifically designed so as not to plug up the ears and thus you can pick up sounds from your environments as you listen in to sound through the headset."
The microphone, placed on the top of the cranium, can be worn out of sight under hats or helmets. Furthermore as sound is transmitted via miniscule vibrations into the bone structure, it can be worn without fear of a third party hearing any noise leaking from the earpiece. This makes for a device especially suited to security situations.
But not all security personnel have had a chance to try out the devices. For the moment, many -- like security guards for heads of state -- continue to wear traditional earplugs that stand out against the crowd. In the future, these men in black will be harder to locate, Fukuda claims.
One example where Temco's devices were used in action was during the 1997 Japanese Embassy ordeal in Lima where Peruvian commandos put an end to a 126-day hostage drama.
Peruvian forces used the high-tech gadgets to communicate between themselves and the command post outside the embassy.
As a result of the operation its popularity among military and security forces around the world has filtered through to the private sector.
Temco has had calls from major mobile phone manufacturers and is working on a scaled down headset that would allow drivers to use phones while driving.
A large consumer electronics manufacturer has also requested a similar head set for use with Walkman-type devices.
This move to the private sector is proving hard for the small organization. The manufacturing cost for one head set at the moment is around 40,000 yen ($330) and the company is struggling to meet the private sector's hopes to sell the appliance at one-tenth of that cost.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Home gadgets of the future
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