Feel­belt - Sound that goes through the body

What does music or sound feel like? Almost ever­yo­ne remem­bers a con­cert expe­ri­ence whe­re the bass from near­by spea­k­ers vibra­ted through the who­le body. Every time the low fre­quen­ci­es vibra­te through the room, this is expres­sed by subt­le vibra­ti­ons of the body. This addi­tio­nal sti­mu­lus helps to ensu­re that the over­all lis­tening expe­ri­ence is per­cei­ved as more inten­se on avera­ge. What if this fee­ling, the fee­ling of acou­stic infor­ma­ti­on, could also be made acces­si­ble out­side con­cert halls, name­ly for films and games? Feel­belt, the Media­Tech start-up from Babels­berg, Ger­ma­ny, has deve­lo­ped a gad­get for this very pur­po­se: a belt that trans­forms sound into a phy­si­cal experience.

This opens up a com­ple­te­ly new world for music lovers as well as for gamers, deaf peo­p­le, movie­goers or users of vir­tu­al rea­li­ty. “We were loo­king for a way to per­cei­ve music in an even more emo­tio­nal way. Tech­ni­cal­ly, the­re is hard­ly any scope for fur­ther impro­ve­ment, the qua­li­ty is now at the maxi­mum level of what our hea­ring abili­ty can absorb. What can be opti­mi­sed is the sound expe­ri­ence”, is how Ben­ja­min Heese, CEO and one of the foun­ders of the Media­Tech start-up, descri­bes the ori­gi­nal idea.

The final ver­si­on of the belt is the result of a sophisti­ca­ted pro­cess com­bi­ning engi­nee­ring, sci­en­ti­fic fin­dings and inno­va­ti­ve soft­ware. It trans­mits audio fre­quen­ci­es bet­ween 1 and 20,000 Hz via a spe­ci­al­ly deve­lo­ped impul­se gene­ra­tor. This is achie­ved by soft­ware pro­ces­sing sound tracks and sen­ding them on to the skin as hap­tic feed­back. The belt can also be worn over clot­hing and can be con­nec­ted to any audio source. A world­wi­de patent is pen­ding. 

It did­n’t take long from the ori­gi­nal idea through design to its launch on the mar­ket. This was also thanks to having a team with the five foun­ders who are all share­hol­ders in the com­pa­ny and each con­tri­bu­te dif­fe­rent exper­ti­se along with a pas­si­on for good sound: 
“The Feel­belt team and the dif­fe­rent exper­ti­se amas­sed here – this is what makes it so valuable in my opi­ni­on. That’s what made it pos­si­ble for us to deve­lop mar­ke­ta­ble pro­ducts so quick­ly”. Net­wor­king in the right place, the fil­te­ring of poten­ti­al, kno­wing how peo­p­le work tog­e­ther and what they can con­tri­bu­te – the­se are the fac­tors behind the rapid suc­cess, accor­ding to Heese. This is why Feel­belt is whe­re it is now, less than two years after having been estab­lished: com­ple­ting their seed-fun­ding round in the last six months with a seven-digit valuation.

Heese also descri­bes being accept­ed onto the Media­Tech Hub Acce­le­ra­tor Pro­gram­me as an important addi­tio­nal step and valuable for the feed­back and shared know-how: “They still kept tou­ch­ing a raw ner­ve in various places.“ The Feel­belt its­elf is pro­du­ced enti­re­ly in Ber­lin and Brandenburg. 
The poten­ti­al that their idea might reach could alre­a­dy be seen during their first pre­sen­ta­ti­on at the IFA trade fair in 2019. Initi­al­ly desi­gned for music lovers, the gad­get cap­tu­red the atten­ti­on of a much lar­ger tar­get group the­re: the gamers. The­re was enthu­si­a­stic feed­back from a lar­ge num­ber of visi­tors to the trade fair, and a Japa­ne­se dele­ga­te pla­ced a bulk order for the Japa­ne­se mar­ket – wide­ly known as the domi­nant one for gam­ing – whilst the event was still in full swing. The Feel­belt offers seve­ral advan­ta­ges for gamers who are gene­ral­ly wil­ling to invest in exten­si­ve equip­ment. The addi­tio­nal hap­tic expe­ri­en­ces mean that they can dive into a digi­tal world in a par­ti­cu­lar­ly immersi­ve way. When com­bi­ned with Vir­tu­al and Aug­men­ted Rea­li­ty, the result is a deep expe­ri­ence with all the sen­ses. Not­hing could be more natu­ral here than a visu­al expe­ri­ence through sound and impul­ses on your body. But gamers wea­ring a belt also have a tac­ti­cal advan­ta­ge: the hap­tic feed­back increa­ses their respon­si­ve­ness and the play­er can, for exam­p­le, react more quick­ly to oppon­ents even befo­re he or she actual­ly hears them. An advan­ta­ge that is par­ti­cu­lar­ly rele­vant in the boo­ming e-sports industry. 

Whoe­ver wears the Feel­belt and is play­ing a racing game will feel more than just the vibra­ti­on: every sque­al­ing tyre, every rev­ving engi­ne and even the sound waves of a pas­sing oppo­nent beco­me a part of their perception. 

The mar­ket launch at the IFA was fol­lo­wed by a round of seed finan­cing and a Kick­star­ter cam­paign which work­ed “incre­di­bly well” despi­te the Coro­na­vi­rus and excee­ded its finan­cing goal by 300%. In addi­ti­on to attrac­ting the invest­ment, the com­pa­ny also gathe­red a lot of user feed­back and estab­lished cont­act with end con­su­mers. A second cam­paign at Indi­go­go, an Ame­ri­can crowd­fun­ding plat­form, is now up and run­ning. The aim is gra­du­al­ly to tap into all of the key glo­bal markets. 

The Media­Tech start-up also has ambi­tious plans bey­ond the enter­tain­ment mar­ket. E-health is the new exci­ting mar­ket. For the per­cep­ti­on of sound via the Feel­belt goes far bey­ond the mere sen­sa­ti­on on our skin. The impul­ses trig­ger emo­ti­ons that are lin­ked to our sub­con­scious. Some­thing hap­pens in our brain. What this is exact­ly is the curr­ent­ly the sub­ject of neu­ro­sci­en­ti­fic stu­dies. “Sound heal­ing”, mindful­ness or the sup­port of a medi­ta­ti­on expe­ri­ence via skin sen­sors are the first obvious are­as of application. 

Alt­hough Feel­belt may not be the first com­pa­ny invol­ved with hap­tic feed­back, it is now embar­king on the next step: they real­ly are making peo­p­le feel every fre­quen­cy with their pro­duct. A fusi­on of our rea­li­ty with the vir­tu­al world, like in the 2018 sci­ence fic­tion film adapt­a­ti­on “Rea­dy Play­er One”, no lon­ger seems to be a distant visi­on of the future. 

You can meet the Feel­belt team again at the IFA in Ber­lin bet­ween Sep­tem­ber 3 and 5.
The trade fair will only be open to pro­fes­sio­nal dele­ga­tes on this occasion.

Plea­se cont­act Daniela.​Kabisch@​feelbelt.​de to arran­ge appoint­ments at the trade fair grounds.

By Chris­ti­ne Lentz

More blog artic­les can be read here.

About MTH Blog

The media technologies of the future are already being used today – not only in the entertainment sector, but also in a wide variety of industries. Christine Lentz meets up with tech enthusiasts, established companies and researchers for our monthly MediaTech Hub Potsdam blog to tell the stories behind the innovative business models.