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Earphones know left from right even when you don't

Figuring out which earphone goes in the right or left ear can be annoying, but researchers in Tokyo might have a solution.

The Universal Earphones would eliminate the pesky problem of figuring out which bud goes in which ear. Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're sick and tired of looking for the tiny L and R printed on your headphones every time you want to plug in, this news will be music to your ears.

Researchers at the Igarashi Design Interfaces Project in Tokyo have developed a pair of "Universal Earphones" that automatically switch the audio channels when they detect that you've placed an earbud in the wrong ear.

The team achieved this by attaching a proximity sensor on one of the earpieces to measure the distance to the ear.

When placed in the right ear, the sensor detects the ear behind it and points to the back of the head. The position of the sensor serves as a cue for the auto-correcting earphones. If you accidentally insert the right bud into your left ear, the sensor ends up facing the front. Noticing this change in position, the sensor triggers a small embedded audio circuit to adjust the audio so you're hearing the proper stereo mix in your left and right ears.

In addition, they can sense when two people are sharing the same pair of earphones and will pipe in both left and right channels to each bud so both users get full sound.

Researchers plan to add even more features to the Universal Earphones. This includes incorporating skin conductance sensors that will automatically pause or resume your music depending on whether the 'phones are in or out of your ear. Another idea is a shared-use detection feature that would allow two users to listen to different tracks using one audio player.

Unfortunately, there's no word on when we might see the Universal Earphones actually hit the market, but we really hope it's sooner rather than later because this concept sounds brilliant.

(Via New Scientist)