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This vibrating hair clip could help the deaf feel the beat

Fujitsu's Ontenna is a tiny, simple idea that could do big things for those without hearing.

Tim Stevens/CNET

Sometimes the best ideas come in small packages, and that's definitely the case here, with a tiny device that could change the way the deaf interact with the world. Called Ontenna, it's a simple concept device that's been developed by Fujitsu. Were someone to hand it to you without explanation, you'd probably think it was some sort of clunky, shapeless hair clip.

And that's basically what it is, but what it does is far more impressive.

Switch it on and Ontenna starts listening to the world around it, turning any sound into vibration. The idea is that a deaf person would clip this in their hair and instantly be able to feel any sound in the world around them. The vibration of Ontenna ramps up depending on the volume of the noise, meaning a wearer could detect beats in music or, for example, tell the difference between a ringtone and a doorbell chime.

Fujitsu designers told me that your body can very precisely detect any movement transmitted through your hair, so it's the perfect place for a device like this. It's also a convenient way to wear something hands-free. But, for those without hair, Ontenna can be clipped onto the skin as well.

The device is still just a concept but, given its simple nature and the potential here, Fujitsu says it may have the thing in production by as soon as the end of the year. The company was hesitant to put a formal price on the thing, but said 6,000 yen would be a ballpark figure -- about US$55. That's a lot of money for a vibrating hair clip, but a bargain for something that could change a person's life.