Haptic suits are here to give deaf and hard-of-hearing people a new way to enjoy live music.
Not Impossible Labs is an organization focused on using technology in various forms to increase accessibility, tackle food insecurity, and protect human rights.
“By packing the room with brainpower, we create the conditions for radical collaboration that leads to progress: custom, never-been-build solutions that respect people’s humanity, enable their independence, and enrich their experience in the world,” reads their description of their team.
Music: Not Impossible is a program under their direction, which focuses on making live music performances more accessible to people with profound hearing loss. Daniel Belquer, a part of that team and also a musician and theater artist, focuses on improving on the techniques deaf people already use.
“What they were doing at the time was holding balloons to feel the vibrations through their fingers, or go barefoot and flip the speakers facing the floor,” Belquer said. He was immediately sure he could do better with the right tech.
Beginning with the concept of using vibration to transmit music right into the body, he and his team began with cell phone vibrators, and worked until they had the current prototype, a lightweight vest with 20 vibrating plates that fit snug against the body, and four more on wrists and ankles.
“What we’re doing is taking the feed from the DJ, and we can select and mix what we want and send it to different parts of the body,” said Paddy Hanlon, also of Music: Not Impossible. “So, I’ll kind of hone in on, like, the bass element and I’ll send that out, and then the high hats and the snare.”
In a recent trial run at Lincoln Center, 75 of the vests were made available to anyone who wanted to try them, hearing or deaf. Music was played only via the suits and via headphones, making for a ‘silent disco.’ The haptic suits were not just vibrating like a speaker drum – they were mixed by a ‘haptic DJ’ who controlled the frequency, location, and intensity across the suits, artfully in complement to the music.