With things beginning to return to normal, we find ourselves going out and enjoying our favorite pastime: social engagements. It might seem both foreign and difficult for us to re-adapt ourselves to hearing those we're with in crowded rooms. No longer will we have a direct feed of each conversation participant's part of the conversation in our ears. Noopl is redefining the social landscape with its compact yet powerful plug-in device. We recently caught up with Noopl's President and CEO, Dr. Tim Trine.
Dr. Trine, what is your professional background?
I have been focused on the ear and hearing for my entire career. As an undergraduate student, I worked in a research laboratory at UCLA that sparked an interest in how the brain processes noisy speech and how audio signal processing techniques can help enhance the brain’s processing of those signals. That interest has never abated and has steered my entire career.
After receiving my Ph.D. in Hearing Science from the University of Minnesota, I began what I assumed would be a very traditional academic career at Vanderbilt University. My research at Vanderbilt, however, led me to take a role at Starkey Hearing Technologies where I spent 19 years leading research and product development. In 2017 I joined the Silicon Valley hearing aid startup Eargo, again leading R&D as their Chief Technical Officer.
In January 2020, I joined Noopl as President and CEO. The opportunity to build both a company and a product line that is truly unique and singularly focused on creating accessible clarity in noise was too great to resist!
What is Noopl?
Noopl is both a company and a product. The company Noopl is on a mission to improve clarity to ensure that people never miss a moment of connection in their lives. We take pride in providing accessible human-centered design, not technology for technology’s sake. Noopl 1.0, the product is a made-for-iPhone accessory that provides an unprecedented amount of background noise reduction through a very simple-to-use device and mobile app.
How does Noopl work?
Noopl uses three MEMS microphones and sophisticated audio signal processing of those three inputs to create a narrow steerable beam that only picks up sound in the direction that it is aimed. The steering of the focal beam is based on where the user is looking by leveraging the head-tracking data from AirPods Pro which allows people to hear where they look. Additionally, we layer an AI-based noise reduction algorithm in our mobile app and allow the user to adjust to the correct amount of noise reduction for the specific situation with a simple slider control.
What sparked this incredibly useful and long overdue innovation?
The initial impetus for the product came from the founder’s, Steve Verdooner, experience with his father. Despite having state-of-the-art directional hearing aids, his father would routinely remove his hearing aids in crowded restaurants because he simply couldn’t hear in noise. Steve simply believed that there had to be a better solution.
The technical impetus for the company was a confluence of several factors: First, the advent of miniature MEMS microphone which have very stable performance over time even with extreme changes in heat and humidity allows for excellent performance that will last the entire life of a product without the need for on-going calibrations. Moore’s Law also played a role. Until recently, a microprocessor with sufficient computational power to integrate the required algorithms and simultaneously maintain very low current consumption wasn’t available. And finally, sensor integration into truly wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds like the AirPods Pro that allows for the magic of hear-where-you-look steering was the final point of technological convergence that enabled Noopl’s innovative solution.
Noopl enables people to participate in situations and environments that they may have previously retreated from due to the frustrations of not being able to hear and participate in conversations. How does this impact their overall well-being, mental and emotional health?
We are social animals. Unfortunately for many of us, the frustration of not being able to communicate in noisy environments forces us to retreat from the very situations that give us the most fulfillment like sharing a meal with friends and family. The impact from the return to participation can be profound. The joy and engagement from re-participating in life can counteract the depression and cognitive decline that arise from social isolation.
Tell us about Noopl’s mobile application.
Noopl’s mobile app is aptly called “Listen.” Our overarching objective with Noopl Listen was to create a simple application that people can just plug in their Noopl accessory, pop in their AirPods Pro, and focus on the conversation. The user interface is crisp and elegant with very few settings to adjust. People can simply set it and forget it allowing them to focus on the people they want to hear. The app is also smart. It remembers the last settings used and automatically optimizes the directional filtering based on whether the device is hand-held or sitting on a table.
Noopl’s first-generation device plugs into the lightning port of an iPhone.
What are some of the future device types we can expect to see from Noopl?
Noopl’s next generation product, which will launch before the end of the year, will offer both lightning or a USB-C connection which means we will support both Apple and Android mobile phones. We are also prototyping a stand-alone device that will allow users to not use their mobile phone as part of the hardware solution.
In addition to hardware changes, we are extremely customer-focused and the fastest way to respond to what we are hearing from customers is through our mobile app – Noopl Listen. The number one request we have received thus far is to offer the user an ability to adjust the bass and treble response of the system. So, we are implementing this right now and customers will see this within a few weeks. We will keep listening and offer customer-driven enhancements at a fast cadence.
Does Noopl envision developing other devices, possibly more immersive, that enable users to experience a wider variety of social situations?
Beyond the immediate-term evolution of the product to support Android, the next biggest milestone in Noopl’s product line will be the adoption of the Bluetooth 5.2 standard by both mobile phone manufacturers and TWS earbud manufacturers. Google announced Bluetooth 5.2 support within Android 12 which is currently in beta and will be released later this year and hardware integration is already in motion for most major consumer electronics companies. Bluetooth 5.2 will be a major breakthrough for Noopl’s customers because it will eliminate the acoustic delay preventing us from tackling a few use situations that our customers request. Specifically, the elimination of the Bluetooth latency will allow Noopl to perform in less noisy and one-on-one situations without the perception of increase reverberation that currently accompany those listening situations. This will also substantially improve the use of our device while watching TV.
What does the future hold for Noopl?
Noopl is just getting started! Our future is bright because our customers have confirmed our business thesis - that people really need a cost-effective solution for a problem that has gone unresolved for decades. In addition, the platform upon which Noopl is built allows us to listen intently to the feedback our customers provide and integrate new features based on that feedback quickly. We expect to include upgrades on about a quarterly basis via our mobile app – Noopl Listen.