Sony seeks US patent for hi-tech 'SmartWig' hairpieces

The hi-tech hairpieces can navigate roads, monitor blood pressure and present slides

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 4:17am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 4:21pm

Sony, which popularised portable music players with the Walkman, is seeking a US patent for "SmartWig" hairpieces that could help navigate roads, check blood pressure or flip through slides in a presentation.

The wig would communicate wirelessly with another device and include tactile feedback, Sony said in a filing with the US Patent and Trademark Office. Depending on the model, the hairpiece might include a camera, laser pointer or global positioning system sensor, it said.

The development of wearable technology such as eyeglasses, watches and earpieces is expanding as consumers seek new ways to integrate computers into everyday life. The race to gain a foothold in a market that Juniper Research estimates will jump about 14-fold in five years to US$19 billion is luring companies including Sony, Google and Samsung Electronics.

"It is an object to provide an improved wearable computing device," Sony said in the patent application. "At least one sensor, the processing unit and the communication interface are arranged in the wig and at least partly covered by the wig in order to be visually hidden during use."

The device was invented by Hiroaki Tobita, who works at Sony Computer Science Laboratories, and the application was made on May 10.

"It has not been decided whether to commercialise the technology or not," Sony spokeswoman Saori Takahashi said. "The research process is continuing."

There are three prototypes, including the Presentation Wig, which has a laser pointer and can change PowerPoint slides by pulling left and right on the device. The Navigation Wig uses GPS and vibrations to direct the user, while the Sensing Wig gathers information from inside the body such as temperature and blood pressure, Takahashi said.

Sony had been studying new wearable devices and customers' needs for them, chief executive Kazuo Hirai said last month. The company has said it is considering applying its image sensors to wearable computers and televisions controlled by hand gestures as it expects smartphone revenue to peak in about 2015.

It planned to seek growth in developing the chips, already used in smartphones and digital cameras, for products such as self-driving cars and medical equipment, said Yasuhiro Ueda, a senior vice-president for Sony's image sensor unit, in September.

Shenzhen-based ZTE also plans to launch a range of "smart" wearable devices, including watches, glasses, shoes and socks.

Samsung, Asia's largest technology company, last month registered a design in South Korea for eyeglasses that can show information from a smartphone and enable users to take calls.

Google's Glass, wearable computer spectacles that can take pictures and videos and share information through the internet, may be available this year or next.

South Korea's iriver has released a headset in the US with a small sensor that shines light into the ear to track heart rate.