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Sony's New SmartWig Patent - Dumbest Wearable Tech Ever or Brilliant Medical Idea?
Wearable Tech World Feature Article
November 26, 2013

Sony's New SmartWig Patent - Dumbest Wearable Tech Ever or Brilliant Medical Idea?

By Tony Rizzo
TMCnet Senior Editor

Leave it to Engadget to unearth yet another kooky tech product! This time around they've managed to uncover a new Sony patent filing that looks to endow wigs with the ability to pair up via Bluetooth with smartphones or other Bluetooth devices. This would provide signals to the wig, by way of vibrations or buzzing, to alert users if they have new text messages, emails or, really, when you think about it, with any other sort of messages - perhaps a massive full scale head buzz if an alert goes off on your smartphone that you are due for a haircut.

Yes, it almost sounds like a joke, but here is an image from the very real patent filing itself:

(click to enlarge)

It's interesting - when one thinks about it the idea of embedding sensors in a wig makes a lot of sense. Movie stars and other celebrities wear wigs every day - just think of the possibilities. Sony could add bone conduction elements to such a wig so that the person wearing it can have sound directly transmitted to one's head. What a perfect way to receive alerts about where the paparazzi may be hiding. Depending on whom the celebrities are they can make mad dashed towards or away from them. And they can receive instructions from handlers without ever seeming like they are being directed.

Heck, they can use them right on a movie set to make sure actors are where they need to be and to remind them of their lines. We're not saying these things don't already exist in movie land - we're just painting an image of possibilities. Use your own imaginations to extend that picture.

What does such a wearable device need? From the patent filing itself, Sony claims a wig will need a sensor of some sort (or at least some device that causes vibrations), a control unit, and a communications device. The good folks at Cynaps already have all of these things embedded in baseball caps - which allow a cap to either transmit music and other sounds via bone conduction, or as in the latest and important iteration of their technology to bring hearing to people who have certain types of hearing losses.

Sony itself suggests that a wig could have a GPS sensor, the ability to use sound waves to detect objects around it, a camera and a laser pointer. Again, use your imaginations. Hmm, a camera embedded in a mass of curls…

Sony is certainly convinced that there is a need for it.  We confess however that we are amazed that a patent application would focus on such an obvious thing. Here is what Sony highlights in the patent application:

"Wigs are useful to enhance a user’s appearance and change other’s impressions because different hairstyles give different impressions. Thus many people use wigs. Especially bald people who usually wear wigs in their daily lives could take advantage of this."

It is a bit hard to take this very seriously. It's also hard to imagine that it is Sony behind this - the same Sony that once made the best TVs on planet Earth. Sony of course also happens to make the Sony SmartWatch 2 these days, a device it has not had outstanding sales of - at least not to date.

As silly as the entire idea sounds wigs are in fact a rather obvious location to include the sorts of wearable sensors noted above. We have no idea what the size of the wig market segment is but it likely quite substantial.

There is a serious medical side to this to consider. One market segment that makes use of wigs is that of cancer patients who have lost their hair through chemotherapy treatment. Certainly wigs in this space can include not only more general sensors but medical sensors as well, or be combined with mobile apps that provide medical alerts not only to patients for such things as taking scheduled medications but to medical teams as well in the case of certain conditions being detected by sensors. Embedding such technology in wigs in these circumstances makes a great deal of sense - not only from a technology perspective but from a better quality of life perspective.

As we noted earlier the folks at Cynaps are certainly thinking along these lines. It is interesting that Sony has now added a voice here - though we aren’t sure they've seen the medical segment possibilities that Cynaps has seen.

So then, it all sounds silly at first glance - especially we consider already silly celebrities as a major target for their use, but there are very serious medical and quality of life reasons to consider wig-based wearable tech as well. We'll keep an eye on how this market segment evolves.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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