Lloyd Watts is the son of a mathematician and a concert pianist, and his parents always pushed him to be a Renaissance man. “My mom, since I was a kid, held up Leonardo da Vinci as a role model,” he says.
Watts, now 50, has spent the last two decades living up to his parents’ vision by studying how people process sounds and figuring out ways to make computers hear just as well. His company, Audience, makes special chips for mobile phones and tablets that separate a speaker’s voice from surrounding noises. If you’re at a concert talking on a phone with Audience’s EarSmart chip, the person on the other end of the line will hear you clearly, without the blaring music. The latest version of the chip came out in November, and earlier versions are in more than 50 smartphones, including Google’s Nexus One. The researcher IDC expects EarSmart and similar technology to be in 70 percent of phones by 2016, in a market worth $750 million.