CuteCircuit has been an innovator in wearable technology for some time, making headlines, in particular, with spectacular stage costumes for superstar entertainers, such as Katy Perry. But the London-based tech-fashion firm also has a reputation for developing products meant to help the wearer do more than just look spectacular. Most recently, it has successfully tested a shirt that can help deaf people feel the music they cannot hear.
The design is an adaptation of a CuteCircuit concept called the Hug Shirt, a product the company has produced in many prototypes over the last decade. A German orchestra, the Jungen Symphoniker Hamburg, commissioned and then bought its latest version—the Sound Shirt. The shirt is connected to a computer system that picks up the audio from microphones placed at various points around the orchestra’s stage. It is filled with actuators that vibrate in relation to the intensity of the music being played in real time.
CuteCircuit CEO Ryan Genz told Fortune, “We mapped intuitively how we thought the music would map to the body. 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 sound waves in specific areas of the body, and within a few minutes understand there is a correlation.”
The Hug Shirt pairs with a mobile phone so people can remotely “hug” one another, with sensors and actuators reading and recreating the strength of touch, skin warmth and heart rates.) However, Genz said, CuteCircuit has “always seen it as something that could be used not just for sending hugs, but as a telecommunications product.”
Apart from the Sound Shirt, the firm also sees possible uses for its technology in gaming—Genz said it has several patents pending and awarded. Those earlier prototypes were mostly purchased by research labs and telecom firms, and now several more orchestras are lining up to get what the Jungen Symphoniker Hamburg bought.