BOISE - If you watched the presidential inauguration earlier this year, you likely noticed the wealth of Secret Service agents protecting the various dignitaries in attendance. It turns out, many of those agents were using a piece of technology designed and developed by a Boise audiologist.
EarHero is an tiny earpiece that conceals in the ear canal, but provides something that other earbuds do not - the ability to hear outside sounds without having to remove an earpiece. It's all thanks to a built-in speaker in each earbud.
The earHero has become a must-have for law enforcement and military agencies around the world. In fact, the company just delivered nearly 400 units to the Scotland Yard police in London.
The innovative audio tech was conceived more than a decade ago when Boise audiologist Matt Murphy was on a ski trip with friends and everyone had the new iPod Shuffle.
"We joked that no one could hear anyone else without taking out an earbud," Murphy said.
And the idea for the earHero was born.
"We went back to the office and played with some of the parts we had, and developed a small speaker in the ear canal that did not block outside sound," Murphy said.
Murphy and his wife, who is also an audiologist, received a patent for the device in 2012. Two years later he won an Idaho Innovation Award for his invention.
Thanks to a contact at the Pentagon, Murphy presented the earHero to the Secret Service, and the rest, as they say, is history. So far, earHero has sold about 10,000 units to the Secret Service and other law enforcement and military agencies, including the FBI, US Army, Coast Guard. The Snapchat security team even put in an order.
Boise inventor's audio tech a must-have for law enforcement
But Murphy, who runs House of Hearing Audiology Clinic in Boise, isn't keeping his invention from the general public. He's currently working on developing a consumer version that improves safety for people out on the move.
"Safety is a big concern - people riding down the Greenbelt, running, jogging - and having the awareness to hear dangerous situations [like] a car coming up behind you," he explained. "And this allows you to listen to your music and still be able to hear what's going on around you at the same time."
Future versions of the device include a Bluetooth-enabled earpiece that could be worn all day long and will allow users to communicate with a smartphone's digital assistant, such as Apple's Siri or GoogleNow.
"You can listen to your music, listen to a podcast, touch a button and be able to set an appointment on your calendar through your phone without ever taking [the earpiece] out of your ears," Murphy said.
To learn more about earHero, or to purchase one, click here. The current version that has been a big hit with law enforcement runs $149.