It's been a while since we've seen a really out-there device come from Google, along the lines of Project Ara or Google Glass. A new leak from the X division of Google's (technical) parent company Alphabet certainly qualifies. According to the unconfirmed report, "Project Wolverine" is a device that lets the user isolate audio to focus on a specific person or source.
Details are light, though Business Insider reports that the technology has been in development since before 2018. The application is obvious: plenty of people have difficulty hearing one person in a crowd, to say nothing of those whose hearing is physically impaired. (Yes, the project is named after the super-hearing ability of X-Men's Wolverine—there's no indication that it will instantly heal wounds or give you kick-ass metal claws.)
The device has other capabilities beyond speech isolation, and the X team is actively working on expanding its utility, but those applications haven't been spelled out. Business Insider claims multiple anonymous sources, and that an X spokesperson confirmed it is "exploring the future of hearing," though the company declined to comment on any specifics.
According to the leak, the Wolverine technology has gone through several form factors in order to accommodate the challenging physics of multiple microphones. Some of its initial hardware was stuffed full of sensors that "covered the entire side of the ear." Naturally it would need to be miniaturized, or applied in conjunction with other hardware like a phone or a tablet, in order to be a viable commercial product.
BI reports that Project Wolverine's continued existence is in no way assured: it has yet to demonstrate that it can be applied to retail or industrial hardware. It would hardly be the first of Google's "Moonshots" to fail. But it's operational enough to demo to people like Astro Teller, the head of the X division, and Sergey Brin. Whether we'll actually see this technology in any kind of shipping product is anyone's guess.
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