Secretive startup full of Apple talent aims to change your life through wearables

Secretive startup full of Apple talent aims to change your life through wearables

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Humane's wearable ditches a screen in favor of lasers, which project info out into the world. Here it is showing a thermostat projected on a user's hand.
Humane's wearable ditches a screen in favor of lasers, which project info out into the world. Here it is showing a thermostat projected on a user's hand.
Photo: Humane

The people who invented the iPhone are trying to invent what comes after the iPhone, and it sounds bonkers.

A secretive San Francisco startup called Humane appears to be developing a wearable, screen-less device that uses low-powered lasers to project information out into the wearer’s environment. And there’s not an AR/VR headset in sight.

After the iPhone: Mysterious tech startup Humane appears to aim for wearables that blend technology with your life

Humane's laser projection can display a calculator, turn-by-turn directions and the date and time.
Humane’s laser projection can display a calculator, turn-by-turn directions and the date and time.
Photo: Humane

According to patent filings, Humane’s device is bristling with sensors and attaches magnetically to your clothes.

It features a laser-projection system, a wide angle camera with optical image stabilization, a depth sensor, a number of other sensors, GPS tracker, a processor and a microphone. The hardware connects to a cloud computing platform.

The device appears to be meant to detect everything around you to help you contextualize, store and sort what’s going on in the world around you, making it available to you in ways other than reaching for your iPhone. Voice commands, gestures and touch controls could all come into play in calling up laser-projected information though artificial intelligence.

Patent filings illustrate the device projecting your home’s temperature controls onto the palm of your hand. They also describe how the device might guide you through checking your car’s oil by projecting instructions right onto the engine itself.

Interestingly, the Humane team says that the AR/VR headset that Apple is rumored to be developing — which many pundits think is the successor to smartphones — is the wrong direction.

“Humane is the next shift between humans and computing,” the company’s website claims.

Humane's wearable will guide you through taks like checking the oil by projecting instructions onto the engine itself.
Humane’s wearable will guide you through taks like checking the oil by projecting instructions onto the engine itself.
Photo: Humane

Founded by Apple luminaries

Humane was founded by Imran Chaudhri and his spouse Bethany Bongiorno, a pair of Apple veterans who both left the company in 2016.

It has no products yet, but over five years of existence it has amassed 140 employees, including a whopping 60 from Apple.

Chaudhri was one of the main inventors of the iPhone. A 20-year veteran of Apple, Chaudhri worked on the Macintosh, iPod, iPad, Apple Watch and iPhone. But he’s best known for inventing the iPhone’s user interface and interactions. He’s named as an inventor on thousands of patents.

“His work defines how the world interacts with technology, and is driven by his insistence on putting the human experience front and center in the design process,” the biography page on the Humane website says.

While at Apple, Chaudhri met Bongiorno, who led product teams. She became a director of software engineering for iOS and macOS projects. She played a leadership role in development of the original iPad prototype, going back as far as 2002. The iPad as we know it launched in 2010.

“Together, Imran and Bethany envision a future that is even more intelligent and even more personal, and have committed Humane to building not for the world as it exists today but as it could be tomorrow,” the bio page says. “Rethinking, reconsidering, and remembering honest human connection in the context of computing, they seek to reshape the role of technology in our lives.”

The patent filings were dug up by Sam Sheffer, a YouTuber who previously worked at Engadget, The Verge, and Mashable. Sheffer just published a video about Humane, it’s staffing and patent filings. You can watch the video below.

60 staffers from Apple with 420 years of experience

Over the past five years, Humane has staffed up with an impressive roster of ex-Apple talent. More than 60 staffers came to Humane from Apple.

They include Ken Kocienda, a software engineer and designer at Apple for over fifteen years who developed the first iPhone software keyboard and autocorrect (and wrote a fantastic book about it). There’s also Brian Huppi, a hardware designer who helped prototype the iPhone’s capacitive touch screen technology.

Humane’s camera product engineer spent a decade at Apple and is now Humane’s director of camera technologies. The startup’s chief technology officer spent 13 years in Cupertino, working in part on iCloud, iMessage and FaceTime. Many of Humane’s other staffers came from Apple with years of experience in key roles.

But not everyone at Humane came from Apple. Others came from companies like Google, Intel, HP and Lyft.

Interesting trademark and patent applications

Although he helped invent the iPhone, Chaudhri is now keenly aware of the downsides to smartphones. Among other things, he hopes Humane can help free people from their smartphone addictions:

“The relationship we have with our devices now is overpowered by the density of information that people have to contend with on a daily basis,” Chaudhri says in a clip from an interview. “And it’s what we’re doing you mean looking at restoring that balance, making it so that the devices are no longer a burden. But they’re actually what they’re intended to do. And that is to make you feel superhuman, not be enslaved.”

And the following quote really cuts to the chase, from the man who helped make the iPhone what it is, but seems ready for it to go away:

“The ultimate interface with computing is one that completely disappears. When that completely disappears, then we turn back to humanity. And that’s when everything starts to get resolved in the right way,” Chaudhri said in another interview.

The trademarks Humane wants to secure shed a bit of light on what Humane is up to. They range from visuals, like spelling the name as it is in the company’s URL, hu.ma.ne, to phrases, such as “the future is not in your face.”

At least 2 hardware products

But it’s the patent applications that gives the best sense of what Humane is up to. There are at least two hardware products represented, with ties to cloud computing and AI.

The first few patent applications below concern a wearable device with a wireless battery pack.

Another device represented in the patent applications appears to be a wearable that helps women keep track of their menstrual cycles. The system could help improve couples’ chances of achieving — or avoiding — pregnancy and assist with women’s health issues.

Check out the patent applications:

  1. Wearable Multimedia Device and Cloud Computing Platform with Application Ecosystem
  2. Wearable Multimedia Device and Cloud Computing Platform with Laser Projection System
  3. Portable Battery Pack for Wirelessly Charging Body-Worn Devices through Clothing
  4. System and Apparatus for Fertility and Hormonal Cycle Awareness