We want to improve cultural participation for deaf people. A lot of work is being done on helping disabled become more efficient in living their life. And that's great. But what is it worth if you can't actually *experience* much of what makes life great? What if you lack the senses that our culture is built for?
Vibrosense is a matrix of vibration motors along your forearm. It transforms music to a haptic sensation and lets you feel music.
Vibrosense is based on two main insights. One is the work of Paul Bach-y-Rita, who proposed the concept of sensory subsitution. Essentially, he proved that it's possible to replace one sense with another. For example, blind people could "see" by sitting in a chair that formed pictures on their back through pressure. David Eagleman has done a great TED Talk that expands on this topic.
Another relevation was a visit to the Oberlinschule in Potsdam, which is a special-needs school that deals with many deafblind kids. Not being able to see, hear and speak is obviously an extreme condition. It's especially though for children, since it's close to impossible to learn or even progress information without these senses. One thing they do at Oberlinschule to stimulate their senses is to let them lie on large beds with subwoofers beneath them, making them feel the music. It's one of the few ways these kids can on their own participate in our culture.
We decided to combine these two concepts and created Vibrosense.
Vibrosense is a sleeve that lets you feel music. Inside is an array of varying vibration motors, arranged along your forearm. These motors translate musical patterns and frequencies to a haptic sensation. The sleeve can even light up in sync with the music to share the experience with people around you.
You just pull Vibrosleeve over your forearm and make sure it fits tightly. Then connect it to your smartphone or computer through Bluetooth, just like any other wireless speaker.
These renderings are our vision for what Vibrosense could look like. We believe that products for the disabled should be well designed and fashionable. You want to be proud to wear them, not embarassed.
We have built a first prototype of Vibrosense. Right now, we have seven basic vibration motors arranged in a diamond shape along your forearm. Music input is analyzed by frequency on a computer and transferred wirelessly to the device. The motors are assigned to specific frequency bands and vibrate when that frequency is hit. We have also wired up small LEDs that light up whenever a motor is active, creating a captivating visual representation of the haptic experience.
From a first user test and our own experiences, we found that using exisiting songs with Vibrosense already worked well, especially with tracks that have less overlapping frequencies. After a while, you will get a feel for the patterns of a song and anticipate different parts. Another option is to compose specifically for Vibrosense. Why limit the experience to translating pieces that have been made for a different medium? So we composed a short audio track. The music sounds boring when you hear it, but it feels great with Vibrosense. Imagine if we could make a whole album. What would different music genres feel like?
It's hard to explain how Vibrosense feels like over the internet. But we can try to show you how it works. We created a simple visualization of how the seven vibration motors in our first prototype play the short track we composed. Whenever a motor vibrates, it lights up.
Vibrosense started out as an experiment for deafblind people. After creating a working prototype, we realized that it could benefit a much wider range of people.
For most people, it can broaden your senses for an amplified music experience.
If you become deaf later in your life, it can restore memories of your favorite music.
If you are born deaf, it can enable unique cultural participation.
Vibrosense is a concept prototype developed by Nikita Jerschov, Jeffrey Tätz, Tatjana Tšernõhh and Lennart Ziburski. We are studying design at University of Applied Sciences Potsdam in Germany.
As part of a course in collaboration with Microsoft Research, Vibrosense was created as an entry for the Microsoft Research Design Expo 2015 in Redmond. The topic for this year was "Inclusive Design & Technologies".
Thanks to Richard Banks, Don Coyner and Andreas Koller from Microsoft for their feedback and encouragement. We would also like to thank Prof. Boris Müller and Fabian Morón Zirfas from FH-Potsdam for the great course.