It’s easy to pass up the small prototype at Japan’s Ceatec electronics show. It was surrounded by the latest advances in robotics, commuting and image projection technologies. However, even if the tiny prototype was the least advanced gadget on display, it’s arguably the most innovative gadget on display.
The Ontenna, the name of the small gadget, is a piece of wearable technology that deaf users can attach to their hair. Once in place, the device translates sound waves into vibrations. The idea behind the Ontenna is pretty basic. It’s a microphone connected to an amplifier which is then connected to a motor.
What sets it apart from a grade school science fair project is its form factor. Wearing the Ontenna as a hair clip can assist deaf people make more out of the world around them, according to Shinji Kanda, a developer at Fujitsu’s Robotics Advancement Office.
The Ontenna was Shinji’s brain child when he was a freshman at Japan’s Future University at Hakodate. He came up with the idea for the gadget after running into a deaf person by chance. Fujitsu gave Shinji the facilities and resources he needed to realize his dream.
Since the device cannot differentiate between various sounds, it is better suited for a quiet environment. Fujitsu gave an example of where the device can come in handy: if someone rang a door bell and the occupant of the house has an Ontenna, the device will vibrate in response to the doorbell. Another possible application would be when someone is vacuuming and the power cord comes out of the wall socket, the resulting thump would register on the device, alerting the wearer.
A couple of variations of the Ontenna are already out, ready for testing. One of these variations uses gentle vibrations while the other one has higher vibration setting. The one with subtle vibrations works best in close proximity with the skin, while its stronger counterpart works better when worn on the hair.
For people who don’t want to wear an Ontenna in their hair, an earring version is under construction. It’ll be worn over the ear, the same way you’d wear a hearing aid.
In recent developments, Shinji together with a few of his workmates held workshop where they gathered feedback from deaf people about the relevance of the new technology. The Ontenna is still at the prototype stage because Fujitsu hasn’t set out a production date.
It is an innovative application of modern technology with the potential to change millions of lives.