Oct 19, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D printing technology has already proved itself in regards to physical handicaps such as missing limbs, a new Japanese innovation reminds us that a lot more is possible in the field of handicaps. Japanese graduate student Tatsuya Honda has developed a very interesting hairpin for his graduate thesis at the Future University Hakodate called the Ontenna. This stylish hairpin is more functional than it looks, however, as it transforms nearby sounds into light and vibration. This enables a deaf user to pick up on sounds such as alarms in a way they can register.

As is the case with so many life-changing innovations, this remarkable hairpin was the result of a chance meeting at a cultural festival. Tatsuya Honda is a UI designer who recently graduated from the Future University Hakodate in Hokkaido, Japan. Having always been interested in problem solving innovations, he was inspired during a meeting at the university’s culture festival. Meeting a deaf person, he showed him around using gestures. Afterwards, he was handed a business card. ‘The person I had just met was the president of an NPO called Hakomimi.net, the Hakodate Sound Visualization Research Society. I became very interested in deaf communication and I joined the research society. I studied sign language, volunteered as a sign language interpreter, and established a sign language circle at my university,’ he explains.

This inspired him to find a sound-based solution for everyday life for deaf people when he was looking for a graduate project in 2012. This eventually became the Ontenna. While looking like an ordinary hairpin, it is actually a mini-computer that conveys vibration through the user’s skin. Attached to your hair (though there is also an earring version), it is easy and comfortable to wear too.  Sounds in the range from 30 dB to 90 dB are transformed into up to 256 different levels of vibration and light, enabling the wearer to associate certain patterns and noise levels with certain buzzing sensations.

This fascinating innovation was developed with the help of the MITOU Program, a bi-annual program aimed at promoting software engineering solutions an d funded through the Governmental IT Promotional Agency. WIth this backing and 3D printing technology,  Tatsuya Honda has already manufactured over 200 different prototypes that are being extensively testing.

Below: Tatsuya Honda.

This extensive interaction with deaf people has already thoroughly streamlined the device and improved its functionality. For one, people thought the original square shape with pointy ends was uncomfortable, leading to the current shape. Other iterations were also intended to be worn on clothing, before ending up with this hair and ear solutions (the ear especially for old people with very little hair). ‘Fingertips, arms… we tried a lot of different body parts. Deaf people use their arms and hands to communicate in sign language, so wearing the device in one of those places proved to be cumbersome. Through lots of trial and error, we finally came to the conclusion that wearing the device in your hair, which could easily sense vibration and wouldn’t directly touch the skin, was the best option,’ he says.

The strength of the vibrations were also something that was optimized through a trial and error process. Too strong vibrations caused discomfort, while too weak vibrations were difficult to recognize and distinguish. However, they have been remarkable successful. In a number of tests with users wearing Ontennas on both sides of their heads, the deaf people were remarkably able to distinguish the direction of the vibrations. The idea is that these don’t just work in the comfort of your own home, but in busy places as well and that still requires some tuning, but the results and feedback are remarkably good so far.

Indeed, wearers have already said that they have become very capable of distinguishing sounds from the phone, the intercom, the vacuum cleaner and more. "One girl who had tried Ontenna said something that really left a big impression on me. ‘At school I was taught that cicadas make a long buzzing sound, but I never knew what kind of rhythm or pattern that sound had until now. Once I put on Ontenna I felt like I could hear the sound of cicadas for the first time.’ I was really happy to hear that," Honda explained in an interview. Lots of questions have also been coming in from parents about purchasing an Ontenna.

All this success has even inspired the designer to aspire for a prestigious goal. Eventually, Honda obviously hopes to make this a marketable product over the next couple of years, but he’s even aiming higher than that. In 2021, the Deaflympics – the deaf people’s version of the Paralympics – will be held, and he’s hoping to have his product ready by then to enable athletes to add a completely new dimension to their sports. If successful, that would be a remarkable achievement.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Louis wrote at 10/19/2015 11:49:23 PM:

Please be advised that the term, “hearing impaired” is unacceptable. Here is the explanation: The term "Hearing Impaired" is a technically accurate term much preferred by hearing people, largely because they view it as politically correct. In the mainstream society, to boldly state one's disability (e.g., deaf, blind, etc.) is somewhat rude and impolite. To their way of thinking, it is far better to soften the harsh reality by using the word "impaired" along with "visual", "hearing", and so on. “Hearing-impaired” is a well-meaning word that is much-resented by deaf and hard of hearing people. This term was popular in the 70s and 80s, however, now is used mostly by doctors, audiologists and other people who are mainly interested in our ears "not working." While it's true that their hearing is not perfect, that doesn't make them impaired as people. Most would prefer to be called Deaf, Hard of Hearing or deaf when the need arises to refer to their hearing status, but not as a primary way to identify them as people (where their hearing status is not significant). We are deaf, and not people with impairments (obstacles) in life! Hope that you and your people respect by refusing to use the outdated and offensive term. Hearing loss is more acceptable for everyone who is not just deaf. http://www.eastersealscrossroads.org/blog/2011/september/deaf-vs-hearing-impaired http://www.deafau.org.au/info/terminology.php http://nad.org/issues/american-sign-language/community-and-culture-faq http://www.ifhoh.org/papers/agreement-terminology/

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