Sony has filed a patent to put computer chips in a "SmartWig," possibly made of human, horse or yak hair, in its latest steps in the march toward wearable computing.
The application, filed in May with the U.S. U.S. Patent & Trademark Office by the Japanese company, proposes technology that could fit into almost any style of hairpiece – from your uncle's toupee to the wildest headgear of cosplay enthusiasts.
"This is something new and fun," Junya Ayada, a Tokyo-based analyst at Daiwa Securities Group Inc., told Bloomberg.
Features covered in the patent application include a camera, GPS location chips, a sensor using "ultrasound waves" to detect nearby objects, as well as actuators that would vibrate to inform the wearer of incoming notifications and also send directional prompts for non-visual navigation (left side of head vibrates, turn left). There is also a laser (no, not death-ray type lasers) pointer hidden in this smartrug and sensors that would detect which way the head was turned or tilted.
Some of these sensors are designed to let the smartwig wearer know "whether the wig is in the right place or not, i.e. whether the wig is correctly mounted on the head or not." There's nothing more embarrassing than a slightly askew SmartWig.
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Other sensors have healthcare applications, according to the filing, by detecting "human information such as brain wave, temperature, pulse, blood pressure, sweat, and head tracing and environment information such as image, sound, humidity, temperature, and density of CO2."
Like many wearables – including Sony's recent smartwatch and Google's Glass prototype – the SmartWig requires a connection to a nearby wireless computer, in most cases that means a smartphone or tablet to do some of the heavy processing that requires lots of battery power. The SmartWig filing doesn't mention internal batteries anywhere in the filing.
Patents filings are not proof of eventual products, particularly now in the age of rampant patent litigation. The rule at most technology companies is to patent every idea, and then use litigation to set the value of the patent later, if necessary.
For instance, Google recently filed a patent for a lie-detecting neck tattoo (yes, really).
The filing, which lists Hiroaki Tobita as the inventor, is filled with the kind of amazing legalese that is required to protect intellectual property, and also cover any possible iteration of the form: "A wig shall herein be understood as a head of hair or parts of it, independent from the type of hair. The hair itself could, for example but not limited to that, be made from horse hair, human hair, wool, feathers, yak hair, buffalo hair or any kind of synthetic material."
Perhaps the most amusing section is a paragraph that admits the same technology could be used to make a "smart hat" but that the wig holds much more promise: "The integration into a wig mainly has the advantage that it is less obtrusive and serves for a quite natural look and feel ... the head area is more sensitive than other body parts, such as a foot, a hand or the waist of the user, where the wearable computing devices known from the prior art are usually arranged."
Wait, the waist? Someone invented a SmartBelt? Was it Batman?