Sensors in Clothing Which Allow Deaf People to ‘Feel’ Music

Image credit: CuteCircuit

Today, wearable technologies typically come in the form of smart electronic devices. They monitor and track a user’s movements and activity levels to capture health data or provide smart assistance by extending a phone display to the wrist.

Now, a London-based fashion pioneer of such kind, CuteCircut, has created the SoundShirt which incorporates haptic technology into wearable fashion that can allows deaf users to feel music on their skin.

CuteCircut already boasts an impressive portfolio of designs which include the Hug Shirt (the world’s first haptic top) and the Galaxy Dress (illuminated wearable display), as well as attracting high-profile customers such as Katy Perry, U2, and supermodel Irina Shayk. Their designs merge Haute Couture with science fiction in a brilliant meshwork of state-of-the-art fashion.

The SoundShirt has 16 haptic-sensors and 30 micro-actuators embedded into the garment which relays the sound played in real time and translates it into a series of sensations for the wearer. This means that whether it be the distinct parts of an orchestra or the driving beats of a club sound-system, each sound element conducts a unique response in the fabric.

“In this way the violins can be felt on the arms and the drums on the back creating a fully immersive feeling for a deaf audience member,” explains CuteCircuit’s founder Francesca Rosella. “Essentially the entire composition comes to life as a language composed of a series of haptic (touch-like) sensations across the torso of the person wearing the shirt,” she added.

This opens up a new way for deaf people to experience music by being able to feel each constituent part of a composition. Twin-sisters Hermon and Heroda Berhane, who lost their hearing during adolescence, recently modeled the SoundShirt and stated that the high-tech wearable was a breakthrough experience for them. “It’s almost like feeling the depth of the music,” said Hermon. “It just feels as though we can move along with it.”

Notably, in the development of the SoundShirt, Rosella wanted the experience to be comfortable for the wearer and uses specific textiles that are both smart and stretchy. This eliminates the need for wires as all pathways of conductivity are interwoven into the fabric.

Inside the shirt - that by the way is completely textiles, there are no wires inside, so we’re only using smart fabrics - we have a combination of microelectronics ... very thin and flexible, and conductive fabrics.

Francesca Rosella, Founder, CuteCircuit

The striking futuristic design of the SoundShirt fuses high-resolution digital fabric and is based on the interrelating modulations of soundwaves and vibrations as well as representing the network of data and electronics embedded into the textile. What’s more is the company has won a series of awards, featured at New York Fashion Week, and had a commission from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The wearable fashion and smart clothes market is one that is currently accelerating and while it is still only a small proportion of the overall wearable technology market in value, tech-companies such as Google and even NASA have expressed interest in collaborating with fashion designers. New York-based Wearable Media developed a jumpsuit, called Ceres, that is connected to NASA’s Near-Earth Object API, which relays the vibrations of asteroids near Earth’s orbit to the suit.

The SoundShirt is available to the consumer for the price of £3000 (GBP) and CuteCircut has also created a package for orchestras and museums which includes Mac or PC software, Q antenna, mics, and an audio convertor – this package starts at £9500- upwards. While £3000 may sound a heavy price for most the Berhane sisters believe it is not one that is too high given the life-altering experience they have been exposed to as Heroda said, “I think it could definitely change our lives!”

David J. Cross, M.A

Written by

David J. Cross, M.A

David is an academic researcher and interdisciplinary artist. David's current research explores how science and technology, particularly the internet and artificial intelligence, can be put into practice to influence a new shift towards utopianism and the reemergent theory of the commons.

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