Phone uses bones to stay clear in noisy places

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    By Nick Nelson

    If tiny digital cameras and Internet access in your mobile phone no longer tickle your technology taste buds, Samsung”s new phone may rattle your bones.

    The TS41 phone conducts sound through the bones in the head to the inner ear with vibrations, allowing easy listening in noisy surroundings. The phone is not yet available in the United States, but began turning — and rattling — heads in Japan after its December release.

    ””It seems kind of weird,” said Shalaina Fotheringham, a pre-theater major from Orem. “But I guess I”d try it. If it worked, it”s an interesting invention.”

    Fotheringham said she worried about the long-term effects of the TS41.

    The phone looks and functions as a traditional flip phone, but TS41 users can also press the handset against a bony part of the head instead of holding it to an ear.

    A “Sonic Speaker” conducts sound through the cranium to the cochlea in the inner ear, bypassing the eardrum.

    Samsung recommends for best results, users should plug the left ear with the index finger to block out background noise.

    Reports from Japan indicate a healthy demand for the phone, which sells for about $75.

    Joel Mathews, a junior from Toledo, Ore., majoring in molecular biology, said the phone could be useful.

    “There have definitely been situations where [the TS41] would be nice,” Mathews said. “Say you”re at a basketball game, or any big venue where there are a lot of people, and you”re trying to tell someone where you are. It gets pretty loud.”

    Bone conduction technology is not new. It was originally developed in the United States for use in fighter jets.

    Headsets with the technology help law enforcement officials and extreme mountain climbers communicate clearly in noisy situations.

    The technology has also been used for several years in Japan in fixed-line phones catering mostly to the hearing impaired, but the TS41 is the first mobile phone using bone conduction.

    A Samsung spokesperson said the company has no plans to release the phone in the United States in the next calendar year.

    Also on the horizon for mobile phones is the “Whisper” by NTT DoCoMo, also from Japan.

    According to a recent BBC article, the Whisper is a wristband phone allowing users to communicate by placing the index finger into the ear.

    Like the TS41, the Whisper transmits sound via bone conduction through the finger and into the ear. The phone”s microphone is built into the wristband and the Whisper uses voice recognition technology for dialing.

    To announce an incoming call, the Whisper vibrates; it is turned on and off by pressing the index finger against the thumb.

    The Whisper has no specific release date in Japan but NoCoMo hopes to sell it as early as 2005.

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