A Watch Band Lets You Hear Phone Calls Through Your Fingertip

A new phone accessory called Sgnl is the exact opposite of a hands-free device like a Bluetooth headset—it’s entirely dependent on your hand. The device, which has blown its Kickstarter goal of $50,000 out of the water, is a high-tech watch band that can be attached to any watch face, whether it’s an Apple watch or an analog timepiece, to let you make phone calls using your hand.

Sound is a vibration, and it can move through your body. Sgnl transmits those vibrations from your wrist through your hand, so all you have to do to hear your call is touch a finger to your ear, either on top of the tragus (the piece of cartilage that partially covers your ear canal) or in the earhole itself.

The device connects to your phone via Bluetooth, and you just need to push a button on the strap and lift your hand up to answer calls without having to put on a headset or find your phone. With your hand to your ear, the microphone at your wrist naturally ends up near your mouth.

At $139 per wristband, it’s a serious investment for something that sounds a little gimmicky. But while prototypes that mental_floss got a peek at were a little clunky, Sgnl did manage to transmit a pre-recorded message over the din of a coffee shop during the 4 p.m. office worker rush, and to be honest, it does feel a little magical. Because you’re putting your finger over your ear and letting the sound carry through your hand rather than through the air, the device ends up cutting down on background noise and making your call clearer. The current model offers a battery life of four hours of talk time, or seven hours of standby, making it ideal for shorter calls (you wouldn't want to have an hour-long chat with your finger in your ear anyway).

Sgnl certainly isn’t the most stylish wrist accessory, but frankly, neither is the Apple watch. It’s probably not cool enough to sacrifice your Rolex’s cachet, but it won’t look terribly out of place with current smartwatches. The band has to be thick and a little stiff in order to fit the Bluetooth receiver and microphone, and it’s undeniably suited to men’s wrists and large statement watches rather than women’s smaller limbs or more delicate watch fashions.

But with a little tweaking, it’s easy to see how a device like this could go mainstream. The watch band design fits seamlessly enough into regular life that it doesn’t feel like an extra device you need to wear, like a fitness tracker or yet another wearable taking up wrist real estate, as much as a high-tech upgrade to the accessory you are going to wear anyway.

The Sgnl Kickstarter ends this week, and devices will ship in February.

All images courtesy Sgnl

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The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]


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