High-tech Nordic headsets improve hearing on the battlefield, at the Euros

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Swedish-based Invisio, which will provide high-tech headsets to French security forces at the Euro 2016 soccer championship this summer, expects military orders in emerging markets to boost revenue further this year.

Invisio’s headsets are already sold to U.S. and British military forces. The in-ear product turns vibrations from jawbones into sound and cancels external noise so that a speaker can be heard clearly even when standing close to a running jet engine or a loud explosion on a battlefield.

Invisio, whose share price soared 500 percent last year, started in mobile phone headsets but changed tack in 2008 as its main customer Motorola suffered big losses to focus on products for the military, law enforcement agencies and firefighters.

That shift into products made for extreme environments means it now competes in a niche market with limited competition and high barriers to entry. The company says it has won all public tendering processes it has taken part in since 2012.

A breakthrough for Invisio came at the end of 2013 when the U.S. military placed orders as part of a modernization drive. The following year, sales surged 136 percent and the company turned to profit after reporting losses for more than a decade.

Now, Invisio plans to expand outside its main markets in Europe and North America to selected countries in Asia, the Middle East and South America.

“I am completely certain that we will win orders in new countries this year,” Chief Executive Lars Hojgard Hansen told Reuters, but declined to say which countries were most likely.

Invisio was founded in 1999 in Copenhagen, which became an audio technology hub after Denmark decided to subsidize the sector in the 1960s. Several of the world’s largest makers of hearing aids are based in Denmark.

The now-Swedish company employs about 40 people and is one of a number of high-tech firms which have grown out of the Nordic region to compete on a global stage.

Invisio headsets can protect a soldier’s ears by bringing loud noises such as explosions or gun shots down to safer levels. A user who wants to hear something from a greater distance can opt to increase the volume by up to five times.

Hearing loss is a major problem for military personnel and the U.S government has said it pays more than one billion dollars each year for hearing aids and compensation to war veterans with hearing impairments.

Invisio, which estimates the current market for its products at about 4 billion Swedish crowns ($492 million), has carved a niche for itself where more old-fashioned products such as earplugs or construction-site ear protectors are often used.

“I believe more and more countries will jump on the bandwagon when they see the benefits,” Hojgard Hansen said.

Recent orders from NATO countries Britain, Canada and Australia helped to contribute to a 14 percent increase in sales in 2015 to 230 million crowns ($28 million).

This year, Invisio won an order from French security forces, which will use the equipment at the Euro 2016 starting in June.

($1 = 8.1253 Swedish crowns)

(Reporting by Oskar von Bahr, editing by David Evans)