Phone scans, 3D printing and AI could make for custom-fit earphones
Audio gear maker Sennheiser and 3D printing technology company Formlabs have partnered for a project aimed at producing affordable custom-fit earphones for a more secure fit and improved noise isolation while out and about.
Mobile music lovers may spend a good deal of time adjusting the secure fit of bud-style earphones while on the move, especially when on a run with true wireless models plugged in. I know that I do. Even when I pop on some very snug foam tips, the earpieces can become dislodged and require a quick readjustment before they fall to the ground.
Custom in-ear monitors molded to the precise shape of the ear can help, but are generally beyond the reach of most consumers – though we have seen a few projects looking to open up this kind of custom fit to a wider customer base.
Instead of targeting the outer housing, a collaboration between Formlabs and Sennheiser's Ambeo immersive audio division is aiming to enable customization by making the ear tips a much more secure prospect.
The manufacturing process would start with a buyer scanning their ears using the camera on a smartphone running a mobile app. For the prototypes, the developers made use of the Hearables 3D scanning app which delivered a result in less than a minute.
The scan results were then sent to a cloud-based machine learning system which used statistical modeling to convert the data into an earphone design specific to the user, which was forwarded to Formlabs PreForm software to prepare the 3D print file for printing on a Form3 3D printer.
Formlabs says that "thanks to Form 3B's low-force stereolithography technology, the 3D-printed earphones are highly accurate with an exceptionally smooth and detailed surface finish."
The prototype eartips were produced in several materials and colors, with initials and logos included for extra personalization. They certainly don't look anything like the dome-like tips supplied with most consumer earphones, and are designed to be pushed down the ear canal for a secure and comfortable fit that's unique to each user. This should make the earphones less likely to be dislodged during exercise, but should also result in improved passive noise isolation.
The main aim of the project was to come up with a scalable production method that could deliver custom-fit earphones to buyers quickly and affordably. Formlabs reckons that with such a workflow in place, buyers could provide scans unique to them one day and have their custom-fit earphones shipped out to them the next, perhaps even on the same day.
At this stage though, there's no word on when – or even if – Sennheiser earphones making use of the process will be made available to consumers.