Conveying Sounds to Deaf People (Part I)
Ontenna, a Brand New Device that Allows Users to Feel Sounds through Their Hair

[The Power to Create the Future Vol. 1 (Part I)]

Using Hair as an Interface--An Idea Developed with the Help of Deaf People

"This is my starting point." Honda still treasures his first hairpin design prototype.

Honda finally came to the conclusion that the device could be worn in the hair like a hairpin, where the user could easily sense the vibrations but the device would not cause skin problems such as irritation or rashes, nor would it get in the way when communicating in sign language or doing household chores. This was the ideal interface that resolved all the previous issues at once.
Honda explained: "The idea of wearing the device in the hair was found through the development process with deaf people. A deaf person said that when the wind blows, we know where the wind comes from by feeling the wind blow through our hair. When I heard this comment, I thought that if the hair is that sensitive, we may be able to use it as an interface."

A Simple, Stylish Design Everyone Wants to Use

After receiving feedback from users, the design gradually evolved into a soft, rounded form.

In 2015, while a second year postgraduate, Honda was selected as a super creator by the MITOH Program, a national project that serves as a gateway for creators. Using funding obtained through the project, he improved the sophistication of the circuit design and form of Ontenna.
Honda shared the details: "At first, it was just a simple rectangular box. After receiving feedback from users who voiced concerns about the sharpness of the angles of the device, the design was changed to a soft, rounded form and made compact. By applying an arch structure to the fullest extent permitted by the approximately 1.5-cm width of the circuit board, we increased the area for grabbing the hair to make it easy to wear and less likely to fall off. We also paid a lot of attention to the circuit board layout. For example, the vibrator is located close to the hair so that users can feel vibrations easily. The LED is located at the center of the circuit board so that it can scatter light effectively. The microphone is located away from the vibrator to avoid howling."
While continually improving Ontenna based on user feedback, Honda produced over 300 prototypes by making use of 3D printing.
"As this product is supposed to be worn every day, I strived to create a stylish design. No matter how excellent the technology is, if the product looks like it is for the disabled, the gap between the deaf and those who can hear cannot be filled. I aimed to create a simple, stylish design that everyone will want to use, regardless of their ability to hear."
After finishing graduate school, Honda continued to develop Ontenna on his own while working as a product designer at a manufacturer. In Part II of this interview, he talks about the further challenges he encountered in developing Ontenna into a commercial product, including how he came to work for Fujitsu and a new encounter he had at the TechShop manufacturing workshop.

The Power to Create the Future Vol. 1 (Part I)
Conveying Sounds to Deaf People (Part Ⅱ)

Tatsuya Honda
Design Center, Marketing Unit
Fujitsu Limited
Born in 1990 in Kagawa Prefecture. During his university days, he volunteered as a sign language interpreter, established a sign language club, and started an NPO. Under the theme "to expand the body's capabilities and senses," he carried out research and development of a new audio sensory device together with deaf people. He was selected as an MITOH super creator in 2014 and received the new face award at the 21st AMD Awards. Honda is currently working to develop Ontenna at Fujitsu Limited's Design Center.