For your ears only: Startup wants to 3D-print custom earbuds

Startup OwnPhones plans to use 3D-printing magic to tailor wireless earbuds to a wearer's ear, thus delivering the perfect fit.

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Yours and yours alone: The 'buds are expected to be available later this year. OwnPhones

Jasmine France, a former CNET editor who reviewed audio products, used to write about having "absurdly tiny ears" that made it hard for her to find perfectly fitting earbuds.

Well, @WeirdEaredJas, listen up. A startup called OwnPhones is getting set to make personalized, 3D-printed wireless earbuds.

"Ears are like fingerprints -- each one is unique, so it is time that consumers were able to get earbuds that actually fit their ears properly," said Itamar Jobani, founder and CEO of the San Diego-based company.

OwnPhones plans to launch a $250,000 Kickstarter campaign in July to finish developing its product, but it's currently offering a 50 percent early-bird discount to those who sign up to be notified when the campaign goes live. Regular retail prices are expected to range from $299 to $449.

To get their custom earbuds, users will access an OwnPhones mobile app and create a short video that shows both their ears (I, personally, am planning some sort of artsy ear-related "Game of Thrones" remix).

The mobile app then uploads the video to the company's servers, and OwnPhones uses photogrammetry, the science of making measurements from photographs, to convert the images into a 3D model. Customers can choose from a variety of materials, including plastic, gold, and silver, as well as a range of styles. They can even specify their favorite physical activity (snowboarding, say), and OwnPhones will combine motion capture analysis data and a mechanical simulation for that activity to help determine the best earbud design for the task.

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Yeah, you could call these prototype earbuds unique. OwnPhones

The 'buds themselves will also sport some smart features, allowing users to customize what they hear, for example, (from a complete sound seal to a combination of a user's own music and street sounds). A status indicator light will broadcast the wearer's personal status (green = go ahead, bug me; amber = busy, but approach anyway; red = stay at least 10 feet away from my aura).

Jobani, a sculpture/installation artist, came up with the idea for the customized 3D-printed earbuds because his 'buds constantly popped out while he jogged.

"Normal earphones hurt because they pressure the ear, and if they don't pressure, they fall out," he said. "The custom-fit OwnPhones earbuds feel perfect while jumping and running, for example."

An opportunity to have my own ears scanned fell through this week, so I haven't yet been able to see how well the customization process works. Still, I think there's a chance I might have just met my new best buds.

About the author

Leslie Katz, Crave's senior editor, heads up a team that covers the most crushworthy (and wackiest) tech, science, and culture around. As a co-host of the now-retired CNET News Daily Podcast, she was sometimes known to channel Terry Gross and still uses her trained "podcast voice" to bully the speech recognition software on automated customer service lines. E-mail Leslie.

 

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