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
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