Human-Machine Interface: This Cutting-edge Earbud Can Control AR/VR

Written BY

Emily Friedman

November 14, 2023

We recently had the opportunity to interview Dave Segal, Chief Innovation Officer and Founder of Naqi Logix. Naqi recently exhibited at the Augmented Enterprise Summit. During the event, the company's product was named one of TIME's Best Inventions of 2023. Learn more about the unique input device below.

BrainXchange (Q): What is Naqi Logix’s origin story and where did the name come from?

Dave (A): In 2013, after reading about a soldier receiving a "thought-controlled prosthetic arm," I delved into the world of thought-controlled technology. My research uncovered thought-driven devices ranging from mouse cursors to cars and drones. While understanding the potential of brainwaves, I pondered if micro-gestures or head movements could be a better alternative. This would be an entirely new kind of human-machine interface (HMI), that would fit inside an earbud, where someone could control digital devices, robots, smart home IoT, wheelchairs, prosthetics, AR and VR without a mouse, keyboard, screen or camera. Instead, the blink of an eye, the raising of an eyebrow, or a slight tilt of the head would give you a kind of superpower over all the devices around you and the digital world. 

Q: What kind of technology company is Naqi Logix?

A: Although some might refer to NAQI as a “Human-Machine Interface,” a “Human-Technology interface,” or a “Neural Interface,” the bottom-line is that we create a silent and invisible command and control experience for global wearables manufacturers that eliminates the need to touch devices, use voice commands, and look at screens.  

Naqi is offered as a hardware-enabled cloud platform, consisting of our Naqi Neural Earbuds reference design as well as the API/SDK for our Invisible User Interface.  I think it’s important to mention that although our reference design is in the form factor of smart earbuds, it can apply to nearly any wearable that wants to incorporate a silent and invisible command, control, and navigation capability for its users. Naqi Neural Earbuds enhance human capabilities, resembling the concept of telepathy, while simultaneously elevating our potential within the digital realm.  

Q: What was the original intent behind the Naqi Neural Earbud?

A: My original intent was to create a safe, non-invasive alternative to brain implants to allow quadriplegics, and those who require assistive technology, to not only use a computer but be productive. Most of us are aware of a leading brain implant company who had what’s best described as a “less than optimal” animal trial, meaning the health outcomes of the animals were quite challenged and many didn’t survive. Regardless of these outcomes, countless people who live their lives lying in bed would likely still opt for an implant, just for the chance that it could improve the quality of their life, even if it meant having the chance of losing it. Naqi is an alternative.

I have a close friend who is a severe quadriplegic and spends most of his life laying face-down in bed.  I met this friend very early in Naqi’s development and he became one of my core inspirations. I wanted to give my friend hope and demonstrate that a non-invasive approach could be highly effective. He has now used Naqi to play a video game (for the first time since his accident), type, and shop as well as use Microsoft Office Products. 

Q: Is Naqi only targeting smart earbud manufacturers?

A: I believe nearly any wearable manufacturer could benefit from Naqi if they want to create a hands-free, voice-free, and screen-free interface for their users. I think head-based wearables such as smart earbuds, augmented reality glasses, VR headsets, etc., are the lowest-hanging fruit for Naqi, however, we could add value to nearly any wearable category. We are collaborating on new use cases and opportunities. We encourage companies and manufacturers to reach out to to discuss. 

Q: What can the NAQI Neural Earbud do? 

A: Naqi’s Neural Earbuds offer users a customized invisible user interface to control computers, robots, AR & VR without touch, voice, screens or even cameras looking at you. Users can control Windows, all Microsoft Office products, browse the internet, type at up to 45 characters per minute, and play contemporary computer games, all using only our earbuds. We can even fly a plane in a flight simulator game. Beyond computing, we've integrated with a top wheelchair manufacturer, enabling users to control their wheelchair's movement and adjustments. Compared to existing assistive technologies, which might involve mouth devices, pressure pads, or eye-tracking, our solution offers a more dignified alternative. Our earbuds also open up the gaming world to those needing assistive technology, leveling the playing field. While it's bold to claim, for those with neck-up movement, our earbuds rival, if not surpass, the performance of leading brain implants in device control. And unlike invasive brain implants, our earbuds pose no health risks.  

Q: What are some enterprise applications for the Naqi Neural Earbud? 

A: There are a number of enterprise applications for Naqi’s Neural Earbuds and they vary greatly from sector to sector. Our earbuds serve as an elegant Human-Machine Interface, allowing users to deliver complex “human-in-the-loop” input in dangerous, noisy environments, especially when a user is required to wear protective gloves that could interfere with tactile input. Although we haven’t built the cloud communication module yet, users will be able to communicate hands-free and voice-free in a completely silent and invisible fashion using predefined words, sentences, and paragraphs. This could be a game-changer for law enforcement officers and security personnel as well as executives in high-stakes meetings. Although this is somewhat covered in my human-in-the-loop input for robotics comment, Naqi is working on silent and invisible drone control, which could prove to be invaluable for various military and SWAT applications. 

Finally, we’ve built an early prototype for operator vigilance and attention monitoring for drivers, conductors, and pilots. Although I’ve been saying “hands-free, voice-free, and screen-free” throughout my responses, it’s worth repeating that our technology is also “camera-free,” which guarantees the privacy of consumers. I’m very confident our neural earbuds will rival or exceed the capabilities and resolution of camera-based vigilance and attention monitoring systems while guaranteeing consumers’ privacy. If videos of consumers are being captured by consumer robotic vacuums and somehow leaking to the internet, why would anyone want to have cameras pointed at you while you’re in your car? Naqi would like to disrupt that trend.

Q: How does Naqi’s technology compare to brain implants and other neural earbuds?

A: Brain implants, while promising, are highly invasive. Many require multiple installations to achieve their stated goals. Their testing phases raised concerns, with certain trials showing significant animal fatalities. Another manufacturer inserts their device via the jugular vein, which could potentially be irreversible. Although their typing performance was lauded at 14 characters per minute, our neural earbuds achieve over double that speed without invasive procedures. While brain implants have potential, especially for those with severe neuromuscular disorders or paralysis, I advocate for their use only as a last resort. If someone can move their head or facial muscles, they should explore our neural earbuds first

Regarding other neural earbuds, the differentiation isn't just in the earbud but in how you process biosignals to create a user-friendly Human-Machine Interface. Most competitors assign specific muscle signals to distinct actions, a limiting approach given the vast IoT market. In contrast,  Naqi's Neural earbuds detect "primers" like muscle signals and head movements to pull users into our invisible interface. Users navigate an extensive multi-dimensional command menu through subtle gestures.  

Just recently, I recorded a video of my flying a Boeing 737 in a leading flight simulator using nothing but a Naqi Neural Earbud for input. Some might ask, “Why a 737?” I chose that because while competitive brain implant firms were trying to play games like PONG, I wanted to set an entirely new bar for the world. If I can fly a simulated 737 in a top-tier flight simulator using nothing but one of our earbuds, imagine the power NAQI could add to your wearable.  

Q: Why an earbud? 

A: We're reimagining smart earbuds, turning them into HMIs for the vast IoT market. We see earbuds not just for sound but as gateways to monetized integrations via an Earbud AppStore, but it is just the beginning. By opening our API, we enable continuous revenue streams for manufacturers. Integrating AI, we envision a future where earbuds are subscription-based, allowing users to seamlessly connect with their AI, marking a shift in the industry. This service-based approach could multiply the sector's global revenue, urging manufacturers to take note.

Earbuds dominate the wearables landscape, making them a natural starting point for our interface. They're widely accepted and inconspicuous, ensuring users won't feel self-conscious. The global earbuds market is booming, projected between $150B to $500B with significant growth rates. However, this lucrative landscape is challenging for manufacturers. There's intense competition, declining prices, and the challenge of differentiation since most earbuds now offer high-quality sound. Typically, once earbuds are sold, manufacturers don't see any residual revenue. Naqi aims to revolutionize this. We want to work with various manufacturers on their use cases. We are a next-generation human machine interface

Q: How does Naqi’s technology relate to AR/VR/MR (XR) devices?

A: Naqi's HMI technology can connect to all these devices and experiences. To the observer, it seems like telepathy, although it’s far more grounded in its approach. Naqi Neural Earbuds offer XR wearables a hands-free, voice-free, and screen-free interface. For AR, especially devices like Google Glass, a discrete user interaction is vital. If AR glasses require overt physical or vocal interactions, it defeats their purpose of seamless augmentation. Naqi ensures that users can engage with AR without external indications, making experiences unobtrusive. This is particularly useful in industrial settings where loud noises and protective gear can impede traditional interfaces.

For VR, Naqi allows users to interact within virtual worlds without using their hands, revolutionizing hands-on virtual training. Additionally, with "VR locomotion", users can navigate the metaverse fluidly without needing hand controllers, special footwear, or large equipment, enhancing immersion. 

In essence, Naqi's goal aligns with the ideal XR experience: silent, invisible, and intuitive interactions, avoiding overt actions that have historically deterred consumers.

Q: Who is the NAQI Neural Earbud meant for? Why should employers and employees alike pay attention? 

A: Naqi's Neural Earbuds cater to a broad audience, from those needing assistive technology to gamers, to military personnel, as well as individuals in noisy or high-risk environments. Our immediate goal is to create the ultimate assistive technology that can also serve as a safe and non-invasive alternative to brain implants for individuals seeking full control of their connected world. The knowledge gained from this will be extended to corporate, industrial, and defense sectors. If you can help someone with no mobility be truly productive again, then that same HMI can revolutionize a collection of sectors for able-bodied people as well

The technology's revolutionary nature means it will influence various settings, including schools, courtrooms, and workplaces. Imagine unnoticed bi-directional interfacing with technology, potentially revolutionizing education, manufacturing, and corporate meetings. Think of having a discrete AI, reminiscent of the '80s show Knight Rider's "KIT", that can transcribe, summarize, and fact-check in real-time. For employers, this technology could ensure workers, like drivers, are attentive, and alert them in case of distractions

Historically, shifts from punch cards to touch screens disrupted workflows, enhancing efficiency. Neural interfaces represent the next evolution, poised to make the workforce quicker and more intelligent.

Q: What’s next for Naqi Logix?

A: We're propelling NAQI's capabilities in the realm of powered wheelchairs and actively collaborating with partners to explore diverse applications across gaming, first responders, robotics, computing, smart homes, and beyond. From the outset, we recognized that if we succeeded in aiding my friend, our impact would extend to millions worldwide seeking a transformative solution. This very technology that aids those in need holds the potential to redefine the global smart earbud market, introducing a seamless and unobtrusive human-machine interface that could revolutionize the industry.

Our innovation doesn't merely stop at aiding individuals; it opens avenues for smart earbud manufacturers to establish residual revenue streams by offering a multitude of integrations into the devices central to consumers' lives, possibly via a smart earbud "AppStore." Moreover, I'm confident our technology will birth a silent and unobtrusive Human-AI Interface, enabling consumers to interact with AI sans typing, speaking, or screen engagement—a true human-AI augmentation minus the need for implants. This innovation could reshape a market expected to exceed $200B USD, shifting from one-time sales to service-based models.

We've initiated dialogues with prominent smart earbud and head-based wearable manufacturers, excited to demonstrate how they can transform their flagship earbuds into the ultimate human-machine interface.

Q:  Should we be afraid of “earbuds that control everything?”  Could they possibly be used to read one’s thoughts?

A: Ensuring the security and privacy of individual thoughts and intentions stands as the paramount priority within the brain-computer interface domain, particularly when contemplating brain implants. Naqi's Neural Earbuds establish the pinnacle of neural protection by exclusively transmitting desired commands using microgestures, thereby eradicating any potential for individuals or corporations to access or decipher one's thoughts. 

Further Reading