Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Designer of spine-tingling vest wins Feel the Music competition

A vest that makes your spine tingle in response to sound waves won a university contest seeking devices to help hearing-impaired people feel music. A panel of six judges chose the winner of Feel the Music from six teams on Wednesday night.

Student Stewart Randolph, a performing arts technology major who also designs clothing, shows the prototype Thumping Threads vest that allows the wearer to experience music through vibrations in the spine. He is joined by teammates Robert Alexander, Rishi Daftuar and Matthew Rose..(Photo by Nicole Casal Moore)

Team Thumping Threads’ designer garment is made of an Italian wool/silk blend. Vibrating motors about the size of dimes line the center of the back. The motors buzz at different frequencies, to let the user to experience different components of the music. Batteries are hidden in pockets. While the prototype had to be connected to a computer to pick up sound, the goal is to install a microphone that feeds audio directly to the vibrating nodes.

Devices like this aim to enhance the musical experience for the deaf and hearing-impaired, as well as for others.
“This was a great opportunity to collaborate on a project for a specific goal,” said Rishi Daftuar, who is majoring in performing arts technology and electrical engineering.

The team members said the project brought together their strongest skills. All five students are performing arts technology majors as well as musicians. Two are majoring in engineering as well. And team member Stewart Randolph also designs clothing.

Six teams of mostly students presented prototypes. Ideas included a glove that transmits vibrations to the palm of your hand, a sleeve that lets wearers feel music on their forearm, a music-interpreting vibrating platform, an iPhone application with a dancing avatar, and a pair of pants with drums in them. The pants combined with “drum rings,” a computer program in which graphic rings pulse and spin to drum beats. Designer Jack Stratton demonstrated. When he tapped the drumsticks on his thigh, the rings on the screen responded.

“You guys have really met the challenge. I’m absolutely floored by all the time you spent. Every group has, at heart, a good idea,” said Joel Martin, a contest judge and co-founder of the Deaf Performing Artists Network. The network was a sponsor of the competition.

“I’m overwhelmed by the creativity and unexpected solutions the students came up with. There’s tremendous potential to make a product out of these,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences.

First-place team Thumping Threads won $5,000. Second-place team Muted Music won $3,000. The other four participating teams share third place and each receives $1,000.
Other members of Thumping Threads are master of media arts student Robert Alexander, performing arts technology undergraduate Chris Conover and dual performing arts technology and computer engineering undergraduate Matthew Rose.

University sponsors are the College of Engineering's Center for Entrepreneurship, the student organization MPowered, the Department of Performing Arts Technology in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and Arts on Earth.