Nov 30, 2015 | By Kira

Product designer by day, radio-hosting DJ by night, UK-based Dimitri Hadjichristou has designed and developed a unique glass dome with LEGO-like 3D printed synthesizer modules that transforms sound into visual and haptic feedback. The product, called Vi, gives deaf or hearing-impaired children the chance to experience music differently, by seeing and even ‘touching’ sounds that they control.

Hadjichristou originally started Vi as a graduate project at the University of Edinburgh, where he was challenged to explore alternative ways for people to experience music. His research led him to the concept of cymatics (the study of how music rhythms produce visual waves) and to the Donaldson’s School for the Deaf in Scotland. It was there that he first saw a ‘resonance-board,’ a long wooden bench through which music is piped that children lie on top of in order to feel the vibrations.

Hadjichristou immediately became interested in how his research in cymatics could build off of the resonance-board and be used to benefit the hearing-impaired. For example, one thing he noticed was that the children become more engaged when they were able to control the music that was played through the board. Thus, he wanted to design a simple, child-friendly product that could put both the power, and the music, directly in their hands.

"By giving them control, they understood what they felt," said Hadjichristou. "That was the 'Eureka' point in the project. I wanted to redesign it the board into a playable, more practical, portable invention."

The simple, funnel-shaped design he came up with consists of modular Korg synthesizers and a speaker housed within a wooden cylinder and a glass dome. Users can wrap their hands around the wooden cylinder to feel the vibrations, while loose ball bearings sit on top of the speaker, bouncing up and down in the glass dome in a visual representation of each beat.

When it came to giving the children the power to control the sounds, he 3D printed various, LEGO-like coverings for each of the synthesizer modules. These 3D printed modules snap together easily through magnets and can be combined to produce different sounds. In addition, each shape visually describes the corresponding module’s action—for example, one component is called a delay, so the case shows bubbles that progressively become larger.

Producing the glass dome and wooden cylinder

"Because it was for kids, there had to be an element of playfulness," said Hadjichristou. "The modules look like Legos. You can't just put these components in a box, there has to be meaning behind them. They translate what each component does visually as opposed to explaining it in a paragraph—it's a simple intuitive design that tells a kid what it does."

His design was developed in collaboration with students at Donaldson’s School and received overwhelmingly positive reactions once complete. Not only did the children enjoy the device, but children of various ages and with different needs interacted with it in completely unexpected ways. For example, some children with autism stared at it for 30 minutes straight, mesmerized by the visual and haptic performance. Also, despite being targeted at seven-to-nine year olds, some of the older children were also able to have fun with it by removing the dome to place other materials inside, or connecting an iPod in place of the synths.

The final product is simple yet effective, and could fundamentally alter how hearing-impaired children are able to experience music or other everyday sounds. Hadjichristou is currently exploring opportunities to develop Vi as a commercial product, which, given its great success at Donaldson’s School, would surely be a hit on the market.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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