CES has always been the place for weird, out-there gadgets to make their debuts, and this year’s show is no exception.
Skyted, a Toulouse, France-based startup founded by former Airbus VP Stéphane Hersen and acoustical engineer Frank Simon, is bringing what look like a pair of human muzzles to CES 2024. Called the “Mobility Privacy Mask” and “Hybrid Silent Mask,” the face-worn accoutrements are designed to “absorb voice frequencies” in noisy environments like plains, trains and rideshares, Hersen says.
“Skyted’s solution is ideal for commuters, business executives and travelers anywhere,” Hersen is quoted as saying in a press release. “No matter how busy or public the location is, they can now speak in silence and with the assurance that no one nearby can hear their conversation.”
Now, there’s no getting around the fact that the strap-secured masks aren’t exactly indiscreet or stylish… unless the Dyson Zone tickled your fancy. And at around half a pound (220 grams), they’re not exactly lightweight, either. But Hersen makes the case that the tradeoffs are worth it for the privacy the masks (allegedly) afford.
Skyted’s masks are built from sound-dampening material that Simon developed while at ONERA, the French aerospace lab — originally for jet engines. They sync (via wire or wirelessly) to a smartphone app that offers a pass-through toggle to pipe speech through the phone’s speaker — minimizing the need to remove the mask. The app also calculates the wearer’s “voice level” and shows insights into their “perceptibility” and “intelligibility,” sort of like a Fitbit for speech.
The masks muffle 80% of a wearer’s voice, Skyted claims, while enhancing the volume in voice and video calls by isolating outside noise. And they’ve been tested with “leading” (albeit unnamed) transportation providers, with backing from both ONERA and the European Space Agency.
To this reporter, though, the masks look like a shot in the dark. Skyted’s marketing suggests as much.
On its website, Skyted advertises… unusual in-app features like a “voice awareness” mode that lets parents quiet their noisy mask-donning kids while they’re playing video games. (It’s not totally clear how this works; perhaps active noise cancellation?) Skyted, in fact, pitches the masks as a more “immersive” way to play games and even has a section of its website dedicated to defense and military applications. Skyted claims to have worked with the French military and the Defence Innovation Agency, France’s military R&D arm, to develop a custom mask exclusively for submariners and special ops.
Skyted appears to be testing a medical mask of some sort too — which, taken with all the other sectors it’s going after, suggests a lack of focus. The scattershot go-to-market — coupled with the eye-watering $299 starting price and low-tech competition — doesn’t bode well for Skyted’s upcoming Kickstarter.
Then again, Skyted managed to secure ~$1 million in seed funding last year, according to Crunchbase data. Perhaps there’s a bigger market for face-mounted, sound-absorbing wearables than I thought.