Nov 23, 2015 | By Alec

It’s a bit of a strange development: we can now buy incredibly high quality stereo earbuds that sound fantastic, but still fit your ear as badly as they did then years ago – or fall out constantly when heading out for a jog. Well, it looks like 3D printing might offer a solution to this common problem, as a new line of earbuds has just been released by Lantos Technologies that use MIT technology to be custom made to fit a user’s ear: the Uvero earbuds.

Lantos Technologies Inc. is a company based in Wakefield and is one of the many startups that has been spawned by research breakthroughs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As the company’s chief audiology officer Brian Fligor explains, they fit each and every ear: ‘Our tailor-made earphones give people easy access to superior sound and a custom fit,’ he says. Lantos is even hopeful that these can be used by the American military in the near future to enhance communication and prevent hearing loss. ‘To build a scanner for digital 3D scanning of ear canals,’ said Lantos chief executive Jeffrey Leathe of his dream. ‘Which no one in the world has ever been able to do. And our first commercialization market is consumer audio. With this custom fit, of course, we can measure the diameter; we can measure the depth of your ear canal so we can build devices that will fit perfectly for you.

So what is this special technology behind the Uvero earbuds? It has been developed by MIT’s mechanical engineering professor Douglas Hart, an image processing expert. He has developed a method for scanning teeth to enable dentists to create accurate molds for crowns, bridges and so on. That same principle has been applied here. Uvero relies on ear canal scanning, for which a device with a rubber membrane is inserted into your ear. The membrane expands, filling the ear completely. The feeling is reported to be quite cool and surprisingly pleasant.

But the real magic takes place inside the balloon. A digital camera takes pictures of the inner membrane, whose shape is no clearly visible. That image data is processed into a 3D model, and is used to 3D print a silicon earbud that fits your ear perfectly. These are also highly effective at delivering the audio right where it needs to be, and though it is currently not up to the highest standard of headphones, the sound quality has been reported to be excellent, while ambient noises are blocked and that fit was perfect and solid – runners need not worry about them falling out anymore.

If you happen to be a professional musician, you’ll already know these kinds of earbuds – but these are the first to be 3D printed and commercially viable. Other custom earbuds, Fligor explains, are made by injecting the silicon directly into the ear of the user. ‘It’s something that’s not altogether safe,’ he said, unlike the Uvero method. Leathe himself is very pleased with the audio results. ‘That sounds better than any earphone they will have ever heard in the past because it captures the sound, so you get true sound. And you get a lower volume so you have actually some health and wellness benefits as well,’ he says. ‘This headset will sound as good as a $2500 in ear monitor that Taylor Swift might use, or actually does use, at a price point that is about a tenth as much.’

The first Uvero earbuds went on sale at the Burlington Mall earlier this month, with more plans being made to reach other outlet stores. The problem is that a specialist needs to be operation to get the 3D scan, so over the counter or web-based selling isn’t exactly an option. And you also pay a price for that service at $269 a pair, with manufacturing and delivery taking up to three days. But with very high priced models from Beats and Apple becoming increasingly popular (up to 30 percent of the market), Lantos is optimistic. ‘I think we’ll expand quite dramatically,’ said Lantos chief executive Jeffrey Leathe. Benjamin Arnold, consumer technology analyst for NPD Group, agrees. ‘What we’ve seen in the headphone market is definitely this trend upward toward premium products,’ he told the Boston Globe.

What’s more, Lantos doesn’t just see hipsters as possible customers, but even soldiers. Hearing loss is one of the most common military injuries, with the majority of soldiers coming home unscathed reporting to have ringing ear problems. Uvero earbuds could enable soldiers to receive radio messages while under fire, and even protect them from hearing loss. While various hearing protection devices are already in use by soldiers, many rarely wear them due to the discomfort they cause. ‘If they fit well, people will wear them,’ said Leathe of his alternative.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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A Headphone User wrote at 12/24/2015 4:14:22 PM:

This looks really promising!

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