Because they're designed for the specific anatomy of your ears, custom earphones are extremely comfortable--and as an added bonus, you don't have to worry about someone "borrowing" them, since they won't fit.
But as anyone with custom earphones (or hearing aids) knows, creating them requires making silicone ear molds that are anything but confortable, and potentially dangerous.
The idea behind Lantos Technologies' 3D Ear Scanning System is offering a safe, quick, accurate, and cost-effective alternative that has implications for the hearing aid market, but also in the consumer electronics space.
A live demonstration of the Lantos 3D scanning process.
Instead of injecting silicone in each ear (which then expands and hardens) Lantos uses a video otoscope for navigation and inspection of the ear canal, a disposable membrane that expands to conform to ear canal anatomy, and portable computer captures a 3D scan. The entire process is supposed to take less than a minute for each side (as opposed to five minutes per ear with silicone).
Avoiding silicone not only gets rid of the suction and abrasion problems associated with the process, but also skips over the steps of creating impressions, mailing them to a lab, and then scanning and modeling the molds. Lantos uses a membrane that collapses completely when removed (making it easier and safer to get out) and then ends up with an industry-standard STL file that can be delivered to the lab for manufacturing.
Etymotic has offered Custom-Fit eartips as a $100 add-on to its in-ear canal headphones for a few years, so the concept isn't new among consumers. And as someone who's had silicone impressions made more than once, a faster and safer process sounds like a great thing. You won't be able to take advantage of it just yet, though, but Lantos hopes to introduce the technology into the hands of audiologists in the second quarter of 2013.