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Music: Not Impossible

'Surround Body' Wearable

Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Engineering Analysis and Optimization

The timeline to bring the system from proof-of-concept to scaleable product was tight — but not impossible!

A whirlwind development journey led to a thrilling launch for a product that uses haptics to create a first-of-its-kind immersive and intuitive musical experience.

For five years, Not Impossible Labs (NIL), a technology incubator and innovation lab, championed the idea of a wearable, “vibro-tactile” system.

Its purpose? To provide an inclusive concert experience for deaf and hearing fans by translating music into tactile vibrations. Not Impossible had a functional proof-of-concept, but they needed a scalable product in five months to debut the technology at the three-day Life Is Beautiful music festival in Las Vegas.

The debut of this product, dubbed “Music: Not Impossible” by NIL, required 220 systems, which would entail designing and manufacturing more than 21,000 injection-molded parts, complete with tooling lead time for 15 unique, molded parts — not to mention six different PCBAs and miles of wires — on a very expedited timeline. … which would be a challenge, but not impossible.

Bresslergroup joined a team of partners — experts in user experience, industrial design, soft goods design, and branding — led by electronics distributor, Avnet, to push the product across the finish line.

The original prototype proved that Music: Not Impossible’s concept was viable — that a wearable wireless device could use haptics to translate different instruments and elements of an audio environment to different parts of the body.

When Bresslergroup’s team looked at the prototype from the perspective of creating the best possible haptic experience, the engineers proposed using actuators called exciters — special “speakers” that only make noise when they’re mounted to something.

The exciters allow the updated device to create much tighter, more precise vibrations compared to conventional vibration motors, which can feel less crisp and detailed. The client likened the change to upgrading from black and white TV to full color HDTV.

Another major hurdle was the wireless communication range. We all know the frustration of trying to play a YouTube video over a poor internet connection and having to wait while it buffers. That was out of the question for a device whose goal was to enable concertgoers to feel live music simultaneously.

Enough wireless range and throughput would be needed to sync the instruments and vibrations without any kind of perceptible lag. It was also important to preserve battery power. (Even worse than a buffering delay is running out of power.)

Instead of using 2.4 gigahertz, which the prototype operated on and which tends to be a very crowded space shared by cellphones, computers, microwaves, etc., the final device uses a LoRa communications platform in the sub gigahertz spectrum. Though using the 900MHz spectrum allowed greater range, it meant that less data could be transferred. The solution? Send only the critical values needed to represent the instruments and recreate the wave on the receiving device.

After much evaluation, an update rate was achieved, making it difficult to tell if there’s any delay between the kick drum pulse and when you feel it in your body. This design provides a scalable solution — from small bars to large arenas.

Bresslergroup was one of a team of partners — including Cinco Design, who handled industrial design — working on product development.

The timeline for this project was so tight, there wasn’t time to fully prototype the device before releasing parts for tooling. Luckily, intensive design reviews (and many late nights) helped avoid any problems in the final parts.

One of Bresslergroup’s engineers traveled to China to expedite manufacturing and to adjust and approve the vest’s final parts in real time. Our team also traveled to Avnet’s office in Ohio, spending nearly a month there testing all the plastic and electronic components and overseeing assembly of all 220 units.

The final product consists of a vest, two wrist bands, and two ankle bands, with a series of actuators that distribute a vibrational translation of the music all over the body that can be linked to different instruments and sounds. Actuators are mapped across the tops of the shoulders, down the spine, on the lower back, around the rib cage, in the wrists, and in the ankles.

What concertgoers see syncs up to the vibrations they feel, creating a first-of-its-kind immersive and intuitive experience.

Imagine: When a drummer hits a bass drum, you feel it on your ankles. The snare drum activates the wrist bands, and as vocals get louder, vibrations across the tops of the shoulders grow stronger. Timing delays were carefully mitigated to provide a seamless experience. What concertgoers see syncs up to the vibrations they feel, creating a first-of-its-kind immersive and intuitive experience.

Assembly was completed in Las Vegas, with just enough time for a few days of testing before the concert, hosted by Church of Rock & Roll and supported by Zappos. The many partners who contributed to the product’s development were on site, working together to make sure every last detail came together. The project couldn’t have happened without this impressive, collective effort and teamwork.

“Bresslergroup deserves a huge high five for their awesome work! Happy to have them onboard for our beautiful journey.” — Daniel Belquer, Director of Technology, Not Impossible Labs

The night of the concert, people were elated — laughing, crying, and most importantly dancing. It’s rare to stand alongside a client as their years of hard work bear fruit and their vision comes to life. NIL had been working hard on this project for five years, and to witness such a successful launch was incredible. It’s even rarer to experience a product go live and to see end-users experience it for the first time.

Witnessing the crowd light up was a thrilling end to this phase of the development journey. Reading about the experience (“the most magical thing I’ve ever been a part of”) in Forbes and Billboard — and seeing M:NI named one of PC Mag’s “best wearables of CES 2019” — was pretty cool, too.

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