The CES demo gods were not smiling on Noveto Systems, whose speaker technology almost seemed unbelievable on paper.
The Israeli firm claims to have the world’s first private speaker system, able to send audio to a single user while remaining silent for everyone else in the room. Essentially, Noveto is promising to eliminate the need for headphones in a lot of situations.
In the living room, for instance, one person could enjoy a movie or TV show without disturbing anyone else. Noveto can also beam separate audio tracks to individual users—imagine a split-screen game where each player hears something different—or provide a little extra volume for someone who’s hearing-impaired. The technology could just as easily have applications in personal computing, automobiles, and smartphone speaker docks.
While basic directional speakers already exist for home use, the problem is that they can’t really follow a user who’s shifting positions or changing seats. Noveto’s solution is a combination of cameras and sensors that track the user’s head, along with wave-shaping algorithms and special transducers that send a focused audio beam to each ear.
If Noveto’s system can work as advertised, it has huge potential. But even before I entered Noveto’s booth, co-founder and COO Tomer Shani was explaining how things had gone awry. U.S. Customs had apparently cracked open the company’s prototype for inspection and caused irreparable damage. I wouldn’t be hearing a proper demo as planned.
Perhaps sensing my skepticism, Noveto’s executives decided to give their busted prototype a shot. The quality of the audio would be terrible, they warned, but at least they could demonstrate the basic idea.
Indeed, Noveto’s technology seems to work. As the demo launched, my ears felt the tickle of a faint audio track. I bobbed my head to one side, and the sound got slightly quieter for a brief moment as the tracking system caught up to where my ears were. No one else in the room could hear anything.
What I still don’t know is how loud Noveto’s system could get with a fully-working version, and whether a louder audio track might bleed over to nearby people. I want to believe, but this is CES, and I’ve seen my fair share of false promises from vendors before.
Noveto is hoping to prove itself in the real world before too long, with plans to reach the market this year. Hardware could sell in the $300 to $500 range, but Noveto also hopes to create value through developer tools (so apps could create their own novel uses for focused audio) and analytics (for instance measuring how people physically respond to an ad).
Still, it’s unclear what shape the finished product might take. The company may partner with larger brands in different sectors—think “powered by Noveto” speakers from a Bose or JBL—but hasn’t ruled out an acquisition either. CES largely exists to hash out these kinds of deals. Let’s hope some of Noveto’s potential partners have managed to get better demos.