Darrell Huff, a 51-year-old automotive technician from Centreville, Md., wanted his quadriplegic son, Joshua, to be able to make calls on a cell phone. Unfortunately, all cell phones require button pushes, so Huff quickly thought of Bluetooth headsets as a solution.
He was especially intrigued by the BlueAnt V1, which has a unique voice-control interface that lets you make and answer calls with voice alone--there's even a voice-guided tutorial if you need some guidance. (The V1 is the predecessor to BlueAnt's more recent BlueAnt Q1).
But even the BlueAnt V1 wasn't 100 percent hands-free; you still needed to press the button to activate it. So Huff set out to find a way to activate the switch without the need for hands.
"I tried different things," Huff said. "It occurred to me a mercury switch might work, but my research soon showed that mercury is all but banned in the U.S. and I also began to worry about the user's perception... I tried using a roller ball-type tilt switch, but it is difficult to find one small enough and my experiments showed the connection with this type of switch was erratic."
After a lot of trial and error, Huff finally decided to use a magnetic switch.
"I opened the headset and replaced the push button switch with a magnetically controlled switch," Huff explained. "The modified version of the headset has a switch that is closed when in the presence of a magnetic field. So when the headset is not near a magnet, the switch is open...If you move the headset near a magnet, then the switch closes--this is like pushing the button."
In case you need to push and hold the button, you would just keep the headset near the magnet for a few more seconds. Huff is careful to note that the switch itself is not magnetized; it just responds to a magnetic field.
Now all Huff had to do was mount a magnet so his son could move his head conveniently to activate the headset. He created one that is on the end of a 29-inch long and flexible rod that can be mounted to a wheelchair. At last, Huff had created a genuinely "hands-free" Bluetooth headset.
To cover his son's expenses, Huff then created a small online store to sell the newly created headset. It's about identical to the BlueAnt V1, except for the magnetic switch (you can read more about the features of the BlueAnt V1 in our review). He also invented two additional styles of magnet accessories--one is in the form of a cylinder that you can wear on your arm (some people may have the ability to move their arms, but not their fingers, for example), and the other can be attached to a pillow.
Huff sells his modified BlueAnt V1 headset for $225, which is around $90 more than the unmodified version, but he does include all three of his magnet assortments in the package. Huff adds that any magnet will work with his headset, and you don't need to buy the magnets from him.
"If a specific person has an idea about a setup that would be most useful for them they simply need to acquire a magnet and what ever else is needed to locate the magnet in a position that works best for their specific situation," Huff said. "Anyone can contact me and explain their situation and I will do my best to help them find a solution that meets their needs."