Wearables

Phone scans, 3D printing and AI could make for custom-fit earphones

Phone scans, 3D printing and A...
Sennheiser's Ambeo immersive audio division approached 3D printing tech company Formlabs to develop a quick and affordable, consumer-focused custom-fit earphone solution
Sennheiser's Ambeo immersive audio division approached 3D printing tech company Formlabs to develop a quick and affordable, consumer-focused custom-fit earphone solution
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The custom-fit eartips are 3D printed from data provided by ear scans performed by the user with a smartphone
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The custom-fit eartips are 3D printed from data provided by ear scans performed by the user with a smartphone
To the rear, custom-fit earphone tips unique to each user for a secure fit (shown with standard silicone buds provided with regular earphones)
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To the rear, custom-fit earphone tips unique to each user for a secure fit (shown with standard silicone buds provided with regular earphones)
The custom-fit eartip prototypes were 3D printed in a range of different materials
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The custom-fit eartip prototypes were 3D printed in a range of different materials
A Formlabs 3D printer was used to produce the custom-fit eartip prototypes
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A Formlabs 3D printer was used to produce the custom-fit eartip prototypes
Data from the Hearables 3D scanning app were sent to an AI system in the cloud and converted to files for 3D printing
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Data from the Hearables 3D scanning app were sent to an AI system in the cloud and converted to files for 3D printing
Sennheiser's Ambeo immersive audio division approached 3D printing tech company Formlabs to develop a quick and affordable, consumer-focused custom-fit earphone solution
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Sennheiser's Ambeo immersive audio division approached 3D printing tech company Formlabs to develop a quick and affordable, consumer-focused custom-fit earphone solution
View gallery - 6 images

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 custom-fit eartips are 3D printed from data provided by ear scans performed by the user with a smartphone
The custom-fit eartips are 3D printed from data provided by ear scans performed by the user with a smartphone

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.

Sources: Formlabs, Sennheiser

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1 comment
1 comment
Jinpa
Might this increase risk for getting run over by cars and electric skateboards the wearers can't hear?