(NaturalNews) Sony has filed a claim with the U.S. Patent Office for a "SmartWig," a toupee or wig that contains sensitive electronics and can sync up with a smartphone or other electronic device.
The patent claim is broad and theoretical, seeking to ensure the company's intellectual property rights to as many features as possible. Among the possible components that a SmartWig could feature are a GPS sensor, a camera, a position sensor (to detect where the wig is relative to the head) and tactile feedback actuators that could produce vibrations or small electric shocks across the scalp as a way of delivering information. The patent application explains that the wig might also include devices such as laser pointers or even ultrasound transducers - allowing sight-impaired users to navigate via echolocation.
Business uses for such a product might include everything from receiving email notifications to using facial motions to flip through slideshows and activate laser pointers. Personal uses might include sending pictures or videos to friends along with a request for directions, then receiving vibrations telling you which way to turn or walk. Medical applications might include realtime monitoring of temperature, blood pressure, sweat levels and even brain waves via embedded sensors.
Fashion meets function
Although the wig itself might offer certain functional benefits - such as allowing customers to conceal their use of an electronic device - the main motivation behind the SmartWig seems to be having a "wearable computing device" with wide appeal on fashionable grounds as well as functional ones.
"The user can wear the wearable computing device as a regular wig while looking natural at the same time," the patent application reads.
"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."
Indeed, Sony notes that the wigs could be made from practically anything - "horse hair, human hair, wool, feathers, yak hair, buffalo hair or any kind of synthetic material" - and could possibly even change in appearance based on the user's movements.
"There is a wide variety of wearable computing devices, such as computational glasses, clothes, shoes, and so on," said SmartWig developers Hiroaki Tobita and Takuya Kuzi.
"However, most wearable devices have become neither common nor popular... We think one of the biggest reasons is the style... the focus has been [on] function, not style... The goal of SmartWig is to achieve both natural and practical wearable devices."
Analysts have interpreted the SmartWig as an effort to compete with other "wearable technology" products, such as Google Glass and the Galaxy Gear smart watch.
Google Glass, still in prototype phase, is a glasses-like eyepiece that allows users to access many of the same features as a smart phone. The Galaxy Gear is, in essence, a tiny smart phone in the form of a wrist watch.
Both devices have been criticized for delivering less functionality than a smart phone at a significantly higher price. Nevertheless, industry observers remain excited over wearable technology.
In its patent application, Sony claims that SmartWigs will be superior to other wearable technology, because "the head has little [opportunity] to touch objects and people instinctively protect their head."
Like other wearable technology, the SmartWig might also raise security or privacy concerns. Slate blogger Tim Dant noted that the proposed scanning and data-collection functions are particularly susceptible to abuse.
"If Sony takes this road, the SmartWig wearer could become a humanoid mobile sensing device for commercial or military purposes," he wrote. "We might even find the NSA tuning into our wigs. Just whose smarts will the SmartWig use?"