Inside the 5G haptic suit that helps Deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences experience live music
Wearable tech suits allow fans to feel sounds and the crowd through vibrations
words Eve Walker
An increasing number of festivals and music venues are now providing sign language interpreters on stage during performances. There is no doubt that this a step in the right direction for accessibility – but if deaf and hard-of-hearing fans have difficulty seeing the interpreter on stage or screen, then they often rely on vibrations from the speakers to enjoy performances. If they aren’t close to the stage, the vibrations won’t be felt.
Cue the latest tech innovation. With Vodafone’s 5G enabled haptic suits, deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences can feel the music and the atmosphere through vibrations whenever they are in the crowd. Delivered to the body by touch-points all over the suit, a multi-sensory experience is created.
Dani Valkova, project creative director at Unit 9, explains to woo how they work in practice, “we translate audio feeds into data and turn that into vibrations. The vibrations are then sent to 24 sensors around the torso, the wrists and the ankles.
“As well as the music and the performance, we’re also capturing data from the crowd through Vodafone’s 5G network and translating that from machine learning into vibrations to capture the energy and the excitement of the crowd.”
Festival goer and profoundly deaf audience member Alysha Allen said, “Getting to wear the suits with all my friends – it was sensory overload, it was incredible. We could feel the crowd all around us, which is a totally different experience to only being able to focus on the stage. It let us really feel that connection with the crowd and the festival atmosphere around us.”
The suits were used for the first time by music fans at Mighty Hoopla Festival in Brockwell Park during Jessie Ware’s stunning headline set on 4 June.
Ware expressed how overwhelming it was to see her fans’ reactions, “Music is for everyone, and it's amazing to be able to change the way my deaf and hard-of-hearing fans can experience my shows. I'm really excited by their potential”.
There are hopes that this technology will be available at many more events in the future, creating more accessible spaces and fostering a greater connection among everyone in the audience. Part of what makes music events so special is being part of something – and these tech suits allow hard-of-hearing audiences to not only hear the music, but to truly feel part of the crowd.