What if there could be a pair of headphones that’s completely unique to you — something that fits your ears, but also your style?
OwnPhones, which just launched on Kickstarter, boasts the world’s first 3D-printed wireless earbuds that are “custom fitted to your ears and perfectly designed to match your personality.”
You use a mobile app to upload a video of your ears, and OwnPhones’ servers convert those images into the 3D data needed to print your custom earbuds. After that, the actual customisation part kicks in, where you get to select from dozens of materials, colours, and styles to create your own unique pair of earbuds.
The company says there are more than 10,000 possible combinations of OwnPhones. And thanks to Bluetooth 4.0 technology, all OwnPhones play your music wirelessly, so you don’t need to worry about tangled cords — or any cords, for that matter.
The company’s suggested retail price for OwnPhones is $US299, but early Kickstarter backers can get a pair for $US149 when they start shipping next March.
Finding The Form-Fitting Solution
OwnPhones founder and CEO Itamar Jobani, 34, spent the last 12 years working as a sculptor — first in Brooklyn, now in San Diego, California.
Jobani, a graduate of New York’s Pratt Institute, is familiar with all of the major publication tools for scanning and modelling, laser cutting and 3D scanning, but he’s also extremely fascinated with human anatomy.
“My last project was something I collaborated with designers and architects,” Jobani told Business Insider. “We made a 3D-printed dress.”
At the time, Jobani says he and his team scanned a model and fitted her with a unique design that responds to the body. But since he moved to California last September, Jobani has moved onto his next “wearable” project.
With OwnPhones, Jobani is taking a similar design approach to the 3D-printed dress to help people get the customised earbuds of their dreams.
“When I moved out to California, I started running a lot, and I listen to music when I run,” Jobani told us. “I spent a lot of money trying the premium projects out there… They just didn’t cut it.”
Jobani wanted to make a pair of headphones that would never fall out of his ears, or any ears. He also wanted them to be comfortable in any setting — running or sitting still.
“I thought I could make something that could fit me physically,” he said. “So I tried scanning my ears with just an iPhone and I got a great result, so I decided I’d pursue it seriously.”
Jobani was determined: He recruited a small team of electrical engineers and industrial designers from the San Diego community, and started getting to work on a prototype for 3D-printed wireless earbuds.
He said he tried “pretty much every 3D technology out there,” printing 560 prototypes in about six months’ time. Finally, Jobani settled on a 3D-printing process he was happy with.
“We have a photographic process where you create photos of the same object from different angles,” Jobani said. “It’s widely used for things like 3D maps. So you can go from the far back to the front and cover the entire orbit around the ear, and that gives us enough information.”
Jobani said the key is to making this manufacturing process “mass produceable” was breaking down the ear into several elements, identifying and analysing its various curves, and then punching the data into a special algorithm. This ever-improving science of making 3D objects from photos, called “photogrammetry,” is the key to OwnPhones’ tailor-made platform.
The customisation aspect of OwnPhones, according to Jobani, is what truly excites him about this project. Like the 3D-printed dress, 3D-printed headphones let customers fit their styles to the product, rather than the other way around.
“You can do different shapes, colours, materials, so you can choose exactly what you want,” Jobani said. “We have some very talented designers and some that came to collaborate on this. We built 20 to 30 designs. Each one of those designs could have so many variations with colours and even jewelry pieces made of gold and silver and bronze and copper. But we’re also reaching out to the designer community, asking them to join us to design whatever they want.”
Compared to most manufacturing processes for headphones, which usually involve plastic molds and skilled mould makers for quality control, Jobani says his 3D-printing process is cheaper and allows for greater adaptability. Jobani says it’s no longer necessary to mass produce a million headphones; thanks to 3D printing, you can build them specific to each customer’s order, which ensures it’s something they actually want.
“With 3D printing, it doesn’t matter if each part you print is different, it’s still going to take exactly the same time,” Jobani said. “So if you print 40 of the same model or 40 different models with flowers, etc., they will all take the same time.”
Jobani is impressed with his early results, but he’s looking for Kickstarter funding to also improve the company’s photogrammetry algorithm, which it calls “mind-bogglingly complex.” Jobani says the company has automated about 80% of the ear-scanning process, but is looking to improve the further streamline the operation with more accurate high-resolution scans. Still, Jobani is already thinking big: He believes the rise of premium customisable earbuds could have a cultural impact.
“Musicians wear custom-fit earbuds on tours, but they’re usually trying to hide them. It’s not part of their identity,” Jobani said. “But pop stars like Lady Gaga can wear something that fits her look and offer it to the public so they can identify with her. They can connect people with sports figures. If you want your initials or certain graphic elements, you can do that too. You can create a logo and share it with your friends, or do something for your school, or family, or basketball team, or friends at work. Customers aren’t used to this yet.”