Jill Stark’s experience watching “The Flying Dutchman” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in October was not just a visual delight; it was a sensory revolution. Stark, who is deaf, donned a groundbreaking innovation called the SoundShirt, allowing her to feel the opera’s sounds through haptic sensations transmitted by embedded microactuators in the fabric.

The SoundShirt, created by London-based wearable-tech brand CuteCircuit, wirelessly receives sound data captured by stage microphones and translates it into vibrations across the wearer’s torso and arms. For Stark, it was a transformative experience, highlighting the technology’s potential to create unique and immersive experiences for those with hearing loss.

This development is part of a broader trend in the entertainment industry, where wearable technology is creating immersive music experiences for a wider audience. The global wearable technology market is expected to reach a valuation of $931.31 billion by 2030, with the fifth-generation wireless technology, 5G, playing a crucial role in this growth. 5G’s low latency enables real-time experiences, a key requirement for wearable technology.

Francesca Rosella, the co-founder of CuteCircuit, emphasized the human connection achieved through sensation, aiming to provide an inclusive music experience for the deaf or hard of hearing. The SoundShirt comes in two versions: one for professional events, like orchestra performances, and a 5G-powered version available to the general public.

The SoundShirt pilot program, launched in collaboration with the Chicago Lyric Opera and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, aims to broaden the impact of live performances and enhance accessibility. Wearers, including Rachel Arfa, the office’s commissioner, praised the technology’s ability to enhance the overall experience.

5G’s low latency, around 20 milliseconds for the SoundShirt, is essential for its real-time functionality. This aspect distinguishes 5G from previous network generations, making it ideal for wearable technology. Experts believe that 5G will expand the capabilities of current wearables by boosting network speeds and reducing lag.

Projects like Music Not Impossible’s Vibrotextile, a haptic vest delivering vibrations across the body, are also incorporating 5G to enhance connectivity capabilities. Daniel Belquer, the co-founder of Music Not Impossible, emphasized bidirectional communication, enabling vests to transmit information back to music controls, creating a feedback loop for an immersive experience.

The integration of 5G into wearables will usher in a new era of personalized experiences, adjusting vibrations based on a user’s proximity to the stage and syncing with the show’s audio. This technology not only provides personalized experiences but also strengthens the sense of community, as users feel more connected through immersive and inclusive entertainment.

By Impact Lab