Hearing With A Sound Shirt
Wearable technology is fast becoming an integral aspect of improving the quality of human life, especially when it comes to new medical interventions. Unlike the accessory function of smart glasses or the convenience of smart suitcases, the role of technology in health and medicine is far-reaching and often life-saving, from MRI machines to apps in smart watches that monitor the heart rate. Joining this growing list of technology is the Soundshirt by CuteCircuit, allowing deaf and hard-of-hearing people to experience sound and music on their skin.
Sound, ultimately, is caused by vibrations in the air, and can have physical effects that go beyond simply hearing with the ears. Some deafness-focused studies take into account the effect of vibrations focus on different parts of the body other than the ears, and consider the frequency of sound – measured in either decibels (dB) or hertz (Hz) – alongside tonality or pitch. This also applies to low and ultrasonic frequencies that we don’t often pay attention to or simply cannot hear. Vibrations are present, too, in the haptic feedback on our phones.
On this note, Soundshirt utilises scientific research to convey auditory sensations to tactile ones for deaf or hard-of-hearing people to feel sound vibrations via micro-actuators embedded in the fabric of the shirt. The shirt wirelessly receives data from software that receives audio from microphones and converts this data into vibrations
that the wearer can feel through haptic sensations on the torso and the arms. The real-time sensations have so far only been tested to replicate the sound captured from on-stage orchestras and can create a ‘language’ of vibrations that targets specific areas of the body. The stomach area, for example, can feel deep, bass notes, while higher, lighter notes, such as that from a violin, can be felt on the arms and upper torso.
CuteCircuit achieves this through the conductive pathways made of woven conductive textiles on the front of the chest, back and sleeves. The striking blue details on the black shirt represents the underlying data network, micro-electronic circuitry and 3D-printed details within the garment, which is made out of ‘smart textiles’. CuteCircuit is already known for the seamless integration of technology into fashion. Soundshirt, however, goes beyond the usual fashion technology ethos of CuteCircuit, and taps into the realm of accessible technology, particularly for deaf, blind or hard-of-hearing individuals.
So far, the Soundshirt was launched at the Junge Symphoniker Hamburg in 2016, developed further into the Soundshirt 2.0, and was part of the Access+Ability exhibition this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Casper & Casper are excited for the other possibilities and applications of the Soundshirt, and the team are eager to see it in circulation in the next few years.
CuteCircuit’s wearable technology, achievements and updates can be viewed on their website.