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Updated 10:00 AM September 22, 2008




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Contest for devices to help deaf feel music

The search is on for portable, wireless devices that would enable deaf or hard-of-hearing people to experience live music by feeling sound waves.

A U-M contest will award a total of $10,000 to teams of students who develop the best prototypes. Contest designers say such devices could enhance the experience of music for the hearing community as well.

This technology challenge is led by the College of Engineering Center for Entrepreneurship in collaboration with the entrepreneurship student organization Mpowered and the Department of Performing Arts Technology in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Also cooperating in the contest is the Deaf Performing Artists Network (D-PAN). The contest officially began Sept. 19 at a gala event to release D-PAN's debut video compilation of American Sign Language-focused music videos titled "It's Everybody's Music Vol. 1."

"This contest is an opportunity for our best student engineers and entrepreneurs to develop devices that allow members of the deaf community to experience music in a new way," says Thomas Zurbuchen, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship.

This contest emerged from a chance meeting. Zurbuchen sat next to D-PAN co-founder Joel Martin on a plane.

"The idea with this contest is for the participants to design something that works wirelessly so that it can be worn to any concert, as a belt, or as part of some article of clothing," Martin says. "It should not segregate a person who is deaf from the rest of the audience. It should be something a hearing person could also wear to enhance the musical experience."

Jason Corey, an assistant professor in the Department of Performing Arts Technology, says this task goes beyond adapting technology. It will involve interpretation and arrangement, in a sense.

"If you sent the audio signals from all members of a musical ensemble to one of these devices, it might not make as much sense to the audience as if you only sent certain musical parts," Corey says. "The teams will have to consider which musical parts give the best interpretation of the full musical event."

The top team will win $5,000. Five runner-up teams will win $1,000. To participate in the contest, teams must include at least two people who are full-time U-M students in the fall of 2008. The winners will be announced in January. More details are online at

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