Normally, gadget and consumer electronics prototypes will go through multiple stages of rigorous vetting and testing before they even get close to being seen by the public. But Sony is taking a different approach with its new early adopter Future Lab Program. The company announced at IFA in Berlin today that it is actively recruiting testers to play with a new hands-free, open-ear audio device called concept prototype “N”.
The program is invite-only and will be exclusively offered to people living in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. What’s more, applicants will first have to agree to the program’s terms and conditions, then actually attend the Future Lab Program event, which is itself invite-only as well. Plus, applicants will have to pay $100 to participate. So, yeah, pretty darn exclusive. Throughout the course of the program, testers will be expected to provide feedback in the form of questionnaires, phone and in-person interviews and other communications. They’ll also be required to speak English in order to put the voice recognition feature through its paces and own either an Android 5.0 or iPhone 5S phone (or higher).
There are a whole bunch of hoops to jump through if you want to participate, sure, but there’s a big payoff. The Concept Prototype N is a hands-free wearable that wraps around your neck. But unlike other neckband headphones, the N doesn’t require earbuds. Instead, it beams localized audio right at your head using Virtualphones Technology. If you want a bit more privacy — or just don’t want to blast your music for everyone on the streetcar to hear — the N also uses bone conducting open-ear headphones.
Additionally, the N packs four microphones and relies on both local and cloud-based speech recognition so that you’ll be able use Siri or Google Now without fishing your phone from your pocket. It even has a small, voice-activated camera. And it’s not as if the N simply acts as a microphone for your mobile device. It uses GPS and location data to deliver timely audio notifications — updates to your schedule, weather reports, personalized news or notable nearby attractions — while the user moves around town.
The Future Lab Program is expected to run until next August. You can find more information and sign up for the demo event at the Future Lab website.