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This Hi-Tech Clothing Could Help Deaf People ‘Feel’ an Orchestra

Oct 18, 2016 05:46 AM EDT

A hi-tech garment allows deaf people "feel" music. Developed by Germany's Junge Symphoniker Hamburg Orchestra and wearable technology experts CuteCircuit, Sound Shirt is capable of translating music into vibrations that deaf or hearing-impaired people could feel.

When the Junge Symphoniker Hamburg Orchestra plays classical music, the wearer could feel the instruments through the shirt. Sound Shirt's software could interpret eight types of instrumental sounds coming from the stage microphones, which include double bass, cello, horns, and percussions into data. The data will be sent wirelessly to the shirt, which is sewn with 16 micro actuators that vibrate according to the intensity of the music.

"We mapped intuitively how we thought the music would map to the body," Ryan Genz, CEO of CuteCircuit, told Fortune.

"The deeper, heavier bass notes [activate the actuators] down in lower parts of torso, and the lighter sections, like violin and lighter notes, further up on the body, around the neck area and clavicle. As they're watching the orchestra, they can see certain areas are more active than others; they feel soundwaves in specific areas of the body, and within a few minutes understand there is a correlation."

Read: Brain-Controlled Robotic Arm Helps Paralyzed Man to Feel Again

The orchestra commissioned London-based tech-fashion company CuteCircuit, which has also recently provided Katy Perry's gown at the MET Gala, to develop Sound Shirt together with the goal of allowing the deaf to experience the group's performances. The stage's microphones are arranged in such a way to enable them to pick up individual sounds from instruments, and the shirt itself looks like a sports shirt lined with a flexible wiring system.

The Sound Shirt was adapted from CuteCircuit's Hug Shirt, which allows people to hug each other through sensors and actuators connected to a mobile phone. The Hug Shirt has already produced about 100 prototypes over the last 10 years.

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