Avnet helped an award-winning tech incubator take one of the most complex wearables from “possibly” to “possible.”
Not Impossible Labs’ early prototypes of a full-body wearable to help the deaf experience music received rave reviews from deaf audiences and musicians alike, and even television news hosts. While they knew they had created something powerful that the whole world could enjoy—deaf and hearing alike—they had only produced a few units.
It was then that the Not Impossible team brought their proof-of-concept to Avnet. Barely a year later, the two teams have collaboratively created one of the most sophisticated wearables on the market: Music: Not Impossible (M:NI). Today, it’s poised to transform the way people experience music around the world, and it’s powered by the Internet of Things.
Before they got to work, though, the Avnet and Not Impossible Labs teams needed to agree on the product’s requirements—no small feat for a diverse team of musicians, media producers, marketers and engineers charged with creating a solution for a problem that many people didn’t even know existed. Erich invested time up front to help the team articulate requirements and set a stringent communications cadence to keep everyone aligned as needs evolved.
“It didn’t always work. We’d get the global team on the phone, share computer-generated models, talk through pros and cons, and make tough calls as we needed to. It was just like walking to the next cubicle, even though we could be 5,000 miles apart,” said Erich.
The team hit multiple technical roadblocks along the way—par for the course with any new invention, especially one as complex as M:NI. Musical vibrations needed to be perfectly timed and transmitted to 23 different areas on the body through a lightweight vest, plus wrist and ankle bands. What’s more, the wearable needed to be triggered by complex software to mix and transmit the live music into vibrations and lights. Each adjustable vest and band leveraged a battery pack, actuators, a subwoofer and colorful LED lights to create a true live music experience that you can feel. The team of developers also carefully considered the user experience of the product, including charging, setup and teardown of the system at the music venue.
One of the biggest challenges was ensuring that the product could handle a crowd—meaning, multiple simultaneous users— with next to zero latency during performances. Not only were there a ton of variables, from the size of the audience to the reliability of the internet or cellular connection, there were three pieces of the experience that the team had to bring together within a 30 millisecond time window:
- The musicians playing on stage
- The sound and feeling of the audio from the speakers, to whatever degree the audience can experience it
- The vibrations from the product
If that didn’t all come together it would have been, “awful, like watching television when the audio is out of sync with the person talking,” Erich said. To solve this, the Avnet team integrated LoRa (or long range, low power) connectivity into the product. That way, they could broadcast out one way, avoid the clutter of a return signal and host thousands of people with no crosstalk.
Another challenge was finding the right actuators, which trigger the vibrations, to enable a quiet and enjoyable experience. Once the team found the right technology, they were continually challenged to fit it all into wearable form factors. What’s more, since the product was intended for use at concert venues, comfort was key—as was the ability for concertgoers to continue to express their individuality through fashion. They needed top tier soft goods to make it happen. The team was constantly balancing out the product’s technology, form factor and aesthetics.
Once it all started to come together, the team soon realized the magnitude of what they created. “We basically created a new musical instrument. You can play it a million different ways,” Erich said. “We needed to make the hardware on this product very adaptable so whoever is mixing the musical vibrations can change the frequencies, amplitudes and even the position on the body where the channels hit to enable the best concert experience for the audience.”
While it was a challenging phase, communication and collaboration ensured everything stayed on track. “Milestone after milestone, even the smaller ones, I received a rain of emails from the engineers asking for feedback,” Daniel said. “So many people, on so many continents, were all personally invested in our success.”
Watch the video on how Avnet and Not Impossible Labs came together to help the deaf experience music like never before–by creating one of the most sophisticated wearables around.