Plantronics Seeks Entrants for Wearables Innovation Contest

The contest is aimed at finding new ideas for future-generation Bluetooth headsets that will be used by enterprises, hearing-impaired people and others.

Plandtronics Bluetooth headset

Headset vendor Plantronics is sponsoring a contest with $85,000 in total prize money to encourage developers to create innovations for future-generation Bluetooth headsets that will be used by enterprises, hearing-impaired people and the general public.

The 2015 PLT Labs Application Innovation Contest, which is open to participants in 33 nations, opens for competition Sept. 29 and will crown its winners on May 9, 2015, according to a recent announcement by the company.

The contest will give developers access to Plantronics APIs, SDKs and product concept prototypes that will allow them to experiment and create innovations that could find their way into future products from the company, Cary Bran, the vice president of innovation and new ventures with Plantronics, told eWEEK in an interview.

It's the first time that the company has sponsored a formal design contest like this one, outside of frequent 24- or 48-hour hackathons and smaller events it has participated in over the last few years, said Bran. "It's ground-breaking for us. We're very excited about it."

The contest is being held by Plantronics, PLT Labs and its Clarity division.

Entrants will be asked to submit their ideas for headset innovations from Sept. 29 to Nov. 15, with quarter-finalists being announced around Nov. 24, according to the competition rules. The semi-finalists will be announced on March 2, 2015, and finalists on April 15, 2015.

Entrants will be able to form teams that will then work together on their ideas, said Bran. "We just want to let developers innovate," using Plantronics APIs, SDKs and other tools, he said. "We will then select the best of breed and go from there."

The contest is aimed at helping the company envision a "broader ecosystem of wearables for customers," he said. "I think it has to really delight the wearer, and I think that's a big part of this contest."

Developers will have access to SDK kits for Windows 7, Windows 8, Android, Apple OS X version 10.9, and for Chrome 37 and greater, he said.

The top 20 teams selected from the quarter-finals round will each receive a prototype Plantronics headset device that will be the basis for their continued development work as part of the semi-finals round, said Bran. That loaner device will be provided so that they can build and test their applications.

The prototype devices have more sensors built into them than traditional Plantronics headsets, according to Bran. "We're putting more and more sensors into the concept devices themselves, quite a bit of sensors. Plantronics has been putting sensor into devices for a long time, but here the number being put in a small form factor is very novel."

Through the Plantronics Developer Connection, the company will release APIs to contestants that provide access to the data from different sensors that could be contained inside a wearable device, as well as other telemetry and communications protocols, according to a statement by the company. The sensors can include a nine-axis sensor that can track head orientation in three dimensions, tap detection, free-fall detection, speech sensing, multiple radios, an accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, near-field communication and more.

"Qualified teams will receive access to physical product concepts so they can further develop their applications and test them. Finalists will have an opportunity to present their ideas live to a select Plantronics and Clarity judging panel," Bran said.

Over the nine-month contest, Plantronics will watch the entrants and see what they develop that could push headset technology even further in the future, he said.

"Headsets have rapidly moved beyond simple wearables that connect one person to another through speech," Bran said. "Now a broad range of contextual information from the device, coupled with the power and ubiquity of smartphones, makes entirely new classes of applications possible."

Entrants must live in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada (excluding Quebec), Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, United Kingdom or the United States to be eligible.

The winning team will receive $50,000 for its work, while the second-place team will receive $25,000. The third place team will receive $10,000.