Challenge 9: Tempo

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Personal listening devices are becoming more and more isolating, and have the potential to cause hearing damage. While these devices can be good for concentration in a distracting environment or for private listening in a quiet one, they may not be the best for walking alone. These devices also play music directly into the ear canal, which can damage the delicate structures of the inner ear. Tempo’s user is a person who wants to listen to music but also be totally aware of their surroundings. This device allows the user to do both tasks. It’s designed to look like an earring cuff, but includes a small speaker mounted behind the ear which interfaces with mobile devices via Bluetooth. The placement of the speaker ensures that the listener can hear their music, but can also hear their environment. This is especially helpful for those who want to listen to music safely while riding their bikes. The speaker placement also prevents music from being played directly into the ear canal, potentially mitigating some of the health problems caused by headphones.

This product is also useful for people who are worried about damage caused by playing music directly into their ears, which Tempo may mitigate by placing the speaker outside the ear canal. Headphones that are placed inside the ear canal or outer ear can damage the structures of the inner ear, since devices can emit sounds at levels as high as 120 – 130 decibels (as loud as a jet engine) (Khatter). Even though most users do not play music at such loud volumes, being in loud environments may lead users to increase the volume of their devices, leading to ear damage (Khatter). Though longitudinal studies are still underway, the “European Union’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) has estimated that 5%–10% of personal music player (PMP) users could develop permanent hearing loss” if they use headphones at full volume. While these statistics are eye-opening, they still do not capture what the hearing loss affects could be when millennials reach old age. Headphone are increasingly being used by younger people, and since younger ears are more likely to be damaged by loud noises, Tempo could be useful for this demographic. Headphones that play music outside the ear canal are a rarity, and Tempo could provide a safer alternative to traditional headphones.

While the tech jewelry space has multiple companies, Tempo is unique. Other companies in this space include Ringly, a company that produces Bluetooth enabled jewelry that tracks activity and transmits mobile alerts and Tinsel, which creates earbuds integrated into a necklace. Our design combines features of other products in this space (Bluetooth enabled jewelry, headphones as jewelry) to create a unique product that is minimalistic, attractive, and functional.

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In our design, we aimed to create a light, minimalist cuff that would support a speaker and would be fairly unobtrusive. We created this design by molding wire around our own ears, and then 3D printing the resulting shape in plastic. This prototype displays the shape of the device but the actual product would likely be made of a thick wire in gold, silver or rose gold for comfort and sleekness. Either one or two sides can be worn but we assumed that uneven playback may interfere with the user experience. The speaker in later versions could also be smaller, and could be totally encased in the plastic or metal frame, instead of resting on the frame. Our product is also meant to be Bluetooth compatible, but we did not wire up the electronics necessary. Since companies like Ringly create small Bluetooth enabled devices, we know the requisite technology exists and can be deployed in a final prototype. The shape can also be altered in future products to appeal to more users’ tastes. We originally set out to make an earring, but decided that an over the ear design would be more inclusive to those without piercings. This design is just a starting point for where speaker jewelry can go. We would like to explore the potential of our product as a fashion accessory and the different placements of the speaker to maximize sound quality and fashion. Expansions can include different light up features, materials, and shapes, but the possibilities are endless.

Sources:

Ringly – https://ringly.com/

Tinsel – http://tinsel.me

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