Communications devices have taken over our pockets and our wrists, but soon the gadgets may go even deeper. Patrick Tucker at Defense One reports that the Air Force has signed a $10 million deal with a California company to continue development of a communication device that is fitted to a users’ teeth.
Dubbed the “Molar Mic,” the gadget is being designed by San Mateo-based Sonitus Technologies. Officially called the ATAC system, the two-way communication system consists of a small microphone that clips to a users back teeth. This enables them to hear communications through their cranial bones which transmit the sound to the auditory nerve. Users also wear a low-profile transmitter loop around their neck that connects to the Molar Mic via near-field magnetic induction, a system similar to Bluetooth that can be encrypted and also passes through water. The loop then connects with with a phone, walkie-talkie or other communications device.
Communicating via the teeth takes a little getting used to. “Essentially, what you are doing is receiving the same type of auditory information that you receive from your ear, except that you are using a new auditory pathway — through your tooth, through your cranial bones — to that auditory nerve. You can hear through your head as if you were hearing through your ear,” Sonitus CEO Peter Hadrovic tells Tucker. “Over the period of three weeks, your brain adapts and it enhances your ability to process the audio [but even] out of the gate, you can understand it.”
Why put the mic inside the mouth? According to a press release, the mic removes the need for headsets and other equipment that could get fouled up, allowing users to continue communicating during dangerous or active situations, such as parachuting out of an airplane, working near noisy helicopters, swimming in open water, or during rescue missions or firefights. Because it is hidden in the mouth, it can also be used discreetly by security personnel or undercover agents.
The system has already been tested in the field. Tucker reports that airmen in Afghanistan tried it for 14 months while deployed, though not in active missions. Pararescuemen from the Air National Guard's 131st Rescue Squadron based at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, also tested the device in Houston last year during Hurricane Harvey. The team faced high water, noisy helicopters and other external noises that make traditional communication difficult.
“This guy is standing in neck-deep water, trying to hoist a civilian up into a helicopter above. He says, ‘There is no way I would be able to communicate with the crew chief and the pilot if I was not wearing your product,” Hadrovic tells Tucker.
But communication is just the first step. The company says in the future the platform could integrate other functions like keeping tabs on a soldier’s vital signs or location. Collecting biophysical data on soldiers is a goal of the military, which wants to use the data to figure out how stress, fatigue and other factors impact soldiers.
The project is being supported by the Pentagon's Defense Innovation Unit, which was created in 2015 to keep the often slow-moving and cumbersome defense technology programs up to date with the latest advances coming out of Silicon Valley and the tech world. The agency now has offices in Boston, Washington D.C. and Austin. The Molar Mic isn’t its first successful technology transfer. In 2017, the unit helped negotiate a $750 million five year deal between cybersecurity firm Tanium and the Army.
Jennings Brown at Gizmodo reports that Sonitus says it will not begin work on commercial versions of the Molar Mic until it finishes it military contract, meaning it will be a few years before we get to listen accept calls directly through our skull bones.