Finger Ring? Earpiece? TC Inventors Build Phone of the Future

TRAVERSE CITY – Two local entrepreneurs, Joe Thiel and Ryan Wells, are hoping to revolutionize the mobile phone industry with a sleek new invention that has already won "Best of Innovations" at the Consumer's Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The O.R.B.-aka Orbital Ring Bluetooth-is a hands-free "digitset™" that, with a simple twist, transforms from a finger ring to an S-shaped Bluetooth headset that fits snugly around the wearer's ear.

Innovative? It gets better. Unlike other headset devices on the market, the O.R.B. utilizes dual-speaker "voice annihilation" DSP technology and sound excitation actuators situated behind your ear that vibrate at 20-thousand cycles per second. Translation: Your entire ear is turned into a speaker.

"Bone-conducting technology really is the future of sound. It feels like someone's inside your head talking to you," says Wells, co-founder of Hybra Advance Technology, Inc. "It doesn't go inside your ear like a conventional headset with a piston and diaphragm driving sound waves into your ear canal. Instead we're able to recreate sound, so it's not damaging, it doesn't cause any bacterial issues, and it doesn't impede your normal hearing."

A hallmark of bone-conducting technology is that it allows wearer's to speak at normal or low conversation volume, so users don't have to retreat outside or away from other people in order to be heard to hear. Likewise, because the piece is only in one ear, the wearer is able to stay attuned to what's happening around him or her. For example, while enjoying normal hearing and crossing a street, not only is your private conversation crystal clear, but so also are the sounds of approaching cars, bikers and other potential hazards.

How does such a small gadget work? The ring vibrates, through surface excitation "vibration tones" to alert you that a call is received or a meeting is scheduled. Simply glance down at your finger to see a horizontal streaming message of Caller I.D. or meeting times on the E-ink display. When not in use, the ring serves as a time device/alarm clock. If the user would like to silence a call he/she can simply touch a button on the band.

Other key details about the O.R.B. All models deliver class-2 Bluetooth (think: 30-foot range) in multiple ring sizes. It's water resistant and charges up easily. And the designers are planning limited-edition models featuring decorative gemstones, with prices based on the value of the gems.

"We've designed the ring to have removable housings for easy upgrades, whether decorative or software related. We want this to be an investment instead of a throwaway like many electronics are today. The key word is heirloom," says Wells.

So how did the Hybra story begin? Wells' father introduced the technology pioneers to each other two years ago after betting on a hunch that both had some synchronistic ideas.

"We were on parallel paths, so when we met each other, for the first time in my life I was challenged in thinking through and problem solving more complex technical challenges. I have a whole book of ideas," says Wells.

After building prototypes out of collected and dissected electronics, Thiel and Wells began contacting companies in multiple time zones for involvement. A marathon of sleepless nights ensued. Then, the mad scientists polished up their presentation and gathered private-equity investor dollars to fuel the O.R.B.'s creation. Like wildfire, with a few strategic Internet press releases, their idea spread across the world.

The component manufacturing partners now extend across Asia into Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, mainland China and Japan. However, Hybra's long-term goal is to bring the manufacturing of the O.R.B.'s components back into Michigan.

"There are facilities all over the state that can be retrofitted to do this work. We have several facilities that we're looking at right now," says Wells.

The base model O.R.B. is scheduled to launch in early 2010 with a suggested retail price of $129, while the deluxe edition is due in summer 2010, priced at $175. The limited edition designer models are also due in summer 2010. Prices will vary based on the value of the gemstones incorporated into the device. Hybra is currently negotiating distribution and licensing.

"Incredibly, we have achieved or exceeded the goals we set forth 24 or so months ago, and I believe we've created one of the best products of 2010. We've built the infrastructure to share it with the world, developed a new Hybra way of thinking through problems, and have sculpted the portal for other inventors to bring their products to market through our channels," says Thiel. BN