Jan 12, 2015 | By Simon

When it comes to product designs that have capitalized on the use of 3D scanning and 3D printing for creating their final products - not necessarily just prototypes but finished products, too - companies focused on headphone designs have been among those finding the most success... and for good reason.  While these technologies have been used by hearing aid manufacturers for years, we are just now seeing headphone manufacturers start to adopt the process, too.

When considering that a majority of products are designed with multiple users in mind, the differences from one user to the next are less drastic when it comes to designing a pair of scissors or a pencil compared to products designed for the ear canal.  As a matter of fact, a single human’s own ear canals can vary drastically between the left and right sides alone.

As 3D scanning and 3D printing become both cheaper and more advanced, it makes perfect sense that companies focused on creating custom-fit earbuds are using additive manufacturing to create their final products rather than mass producing a single “one size fits all” object.

More recently, audio equipment manufacturer Harman, who own a portfolio of recognizable audiophile brands including Harman/Kardon and JBL Audio, teamed up with ear scanning company United Sciences last week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2015) in Las Vegas to offer a new 3D scanning service for custom headphone designs.

United Sciences' unique laser scanner, which was developed by co-founder and Chief Science Officer Karol Hatzilias on a U.S. Navy research grant that focused on creating accurate and custom hearing protection for the military, uses not just one scanner but three simultaneously to gather all of the necessary data.   

"It's a laser triangulation; there are actually three different scanners working at once," said Hatzilias. "One is tracking the movement of your head, and then there is a ring laser and a line laser; the ring is for the canal, the undercut and the concha, and the line is for the majority of the ear's outside."

In order to ensure that a proper read is made with the scan, a circular movement tracker is placed over the ear of the person being scanned.  The otoscope-shaped laser scanner is then able to create a 3D model of both the inner and outer ear.  The final collected data of a user’s ‘ear shells’ is then able to be directly sent to a 3D printer and printed on the spot.  Once these have been printed, they are then injected with soft and comfortable silicone that match the ear shell as it was previously scanned just moments before.  

Within an hour of the initial scan, the final product is a pair of JBL headphones that are perfectly-fitted and ready to be used for active activities or for simply just a better-fitting headphone design.

"This is the next generation of in-ear devices,” said United Sciences CEO and co-founder Sam Kellet Jr.  “With this 3D scanning technology, we can get more reliable signals than anyone else out there," "The ear's the place to be."

While the partnership between Harman and United Sciences is the first to offer this new type of laser scanning technology, they are not the first to produce headphones that capitalize on 3D printing technologies. 

Just last year, Nikki Kaufman, an ex-Quirky designer, left the crowdsourced design company to launch Normal, a 3D printable headphone company with a brick-and-mortar store located in New York City’s SoHo shopping district.  At the store, a Normal employee uses a photograph of a customer’s ear to create a customized 3D printed earbud design on-location.  The 3D model is then printed while the customer is still in the store and is able to take their new 3D printed headphone design home with them in a matter of minutes.  The company also has iPhone and Android apps so anybody who isn't in New York can use the service too.

"This is the beginning of our innovation efforts into the world of 'mass personalized' wearables, that can be fine-tuned to individuals' physical and physiological differences," added I.P. Park, Harman's CTO. "Such custom-fit earpieces will improve current biometrics by reducing the processing power required to filter noise because of bad contact with the skin."

Between the partnership between Harman and United Sciences, this is an exciting time for audiophiles and anybody who has been tired with the uncomfortable “one size fits all” earbuds that we have all become accustomed to using with our iPhones, iPods and other music playing devices.


Source: Mashable


Posted in 3D Scanning


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