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Bragi wants to sell AI more than headphones

Bragi wants to sell AI more than headphones

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Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

If you know Bragi, it’s because you know the Dash earbuds. The company launched on Kickstarter three years ago with one of the most exciting wireless earbuds to date. It’s iterated on them for the past two years, and it now makes one of the better pairs on the market. But Bragi CEO Nikolaj Hviid says the company is only interested in headphones to a point — its real goal is to sell AI.

To that end, Bragi is announcing a machine learning platform this week called NanoAI. Other companies will be able to license NanoAI, train the system on relevant data, and use it to add intelligent features to their products. One example Hviid gave is a power drill: its creator could train NanoAI on a set of pressure or vibration data that lets the software learn what it’s like to drill through different materials. Then when you’re using the drill, it could alert you if you’re approaching wood, concrete, or some other substance.

“It’s always been about AI and software. The headphones are a vehicle to show how it works.”

Bragi’s ambitions for its software are huge. Hviid lists pretty much anything and everything as potential use cases for NanoAI: medical, industrial, automotive, wearables, agriculture, aerospace — even defense. “Very efficient AI is agnostic to a single use case,” he says.

The definition of AI differs widely between companies and researchers, and it’s hard to tell from Bragi’s description if this is really a powerful AI tool or just an easy way of creating some smart features, despite the lofty goals. Hviid claims Bragi’s AI is “50 to 100 times more efficient than anyone else,” but he didn’t explain what software this was in comparison to, nor what exactly was being measured.

Bragi’s breakthrough, supposedly, is finding a way to ignore extraneous data and then priming the remaining information ahead of time before it makes it to the software, so less processing is needed once it arrives. Hviid says it’s inspired by the way a fly’s brain is wired.

One of the big reasons Bragi has focused on efficiency is to allow these features to run on devices as simple as a pair of wireless earbuds, like Bragi’s own Dash. It says companies should be able to run NanoAI features entirely on device, without sending anything up to the cloud. For consumer applications, it thinks that could be a big selling point because of the privacy advantages and lower cloud computing costs. Hviid says Bragi already has partners and will announce some of them in a few months.

This doesn’t mean Bragi is done selling headphones — there are still new models in the works. But part of Bragi’s sales pitch has always been that it’s not just offering headphones, but a smart assistant in your ear. “It’s always been about AI and software,” Hviid says. “The headphones are a vehicle to show how it works.” He adds later, while holding the Dash Pro, “Google does Pixels; we do these.”

There’s a large extent to which this whole thing feels like Bragi playing into a bunch of hype. Yes, the company has long had smart features and seems to have a product ready to sell. But it also seems like an acknowledgement from Bragi that wireless headphones are hard; that it’s going up against some of the biggest companies in the world (one of which already has a significant lead); and that there’s likely more money to be made in providing AI solutions to businesses, should it find any success there.

But Hviid says this was always the plan. “70 percent of all our development is purely on AI and software. And it’s always been that.” If that’s true, then after three years we’re finally seeing the real Bragi.