Unless you've done a deep-dive into patent history, you may not know that the creation of the metronome is originally attributed to none other than the German inventor and engineer Johann Nepomuk Maelzl. When the patent was originally filed by Maelzl in 1815 it bore the name "Instrument or Machine for the Improvement of all Musical Performances"—not exactly primed for a catchy ad campaign.
The invention was followed by a bit of controversy regarding whether the machine would in fact make musicians 'too-mechanical' when they played—a debate that has persisted between music teachers, students and professionals through much of music history. Whichever side of the debate you are on, it's undeniable that a proper understanding of tempo is of great importance to anyone fancying themselves a musician. As for innovation, despite a few electronic updates to the classic tool, the modern metronome functions pretty much the same way as its ancestors—until recently.
The Berlin-based Startup Soundbrenner has released their first product the 'Pulse,' effectively a re-envisoning of the metronome. Their wearable device for musicians uses haptic feedback instead of the centuries-old auditory mechanism (i.e. the click...click...click of Maelzl's time) to let you physically feel the beat and maintain tempo. The connected device allows not only for solo tempo control, but also the option to sync your entire band either during practice or live performance through their handy app.
The team premiered the Pulse on Indiegogo on Tuesday in search of a sizable $75,000 to fulfill their first production run. As a team comprised entirely of musicians, they are well-positioned to solve an issue they know intimately. En route to this goal, the team also added in visual queues to denote tempo, as well as an extendable strap to ensure that you need not wear your Pulse on your wrist, it can be switched to an ankle or upper arm depending on your instrument of choice.
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In terms of functionality, the Soundbrenner Pulse manages not to fall into the feature creep. The team has kept it simple and usable focusing on the basics without distraction. One third of the device is the motor delivering a haptic 'pulse' or vibration approximately 3-6 times stronger than your typical smartphone vibration. In order to source the proper motors and components to achieve the desired feedback the team relocated from Berlin to Shenzhen for the duration of product development to source parts—an attention to mechanical detail that shines through in the finalized designs.
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In the midst of their campaign, we caught up with CEO Florian Simmendinger to ask a few questions about the Soundbrenner Pulse and his quick thoughts on the future of wearable tech.
Teshia Treuhaft: What are the origins of the idea for the Soundbrenner Pulse?
Simmendinger: One day while Vini [Tiet, Soundbrenner Financial Manager] was practicing with his violin for his next orchestra performance, he found himself once again annoyed by the nagging clicking sound of his metronome. It got him thinking about why there was no better solution to this to keep track of rhythm—after all, the metronome is more than 200 years old. He took inspiration from the fitness tracker that he was wearing that day. He asked himself why no one had come up with a vibrating metronome that you could wear.
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Did you jump on the idea right away?
The idea was born then, but for several months nothing happened at all.
In June 2014, Vini and I met randomly at Startup Weekend Berlin and he shared his idea with me. Together with other participants we formed a team for the Startup Weekend Competition and left the event as the overall winners. What started as a fun weekend turned into a serious business in a matter of weeks after joining a technology accelerator called Hardware.co. We met a bunch of other hardware startups who were already successfully making products. Combined with all the knowledge about startups we were acquiring, this inspired us to keep pursuing the idea and take it more seriously.
What are the main concerns for embedding the haptic feedback in the Pulse?
Haptic Feedback can actually transfer information through vibrations, e.g. through haptic feedback a musician can know which bar of a beat he is currently playing based on the type of vibration. It's really important to use modern haptic drivers and vibration motors in order to create very strong, distinct vibrations that can still be perceived while moving a lot, e.g. particularly during drumming.
Enter a caption (optional) BPM can be set by either tapping the pulse in time or using the wheel function.
Wearables are a massive trend it tech right now, do you think the momentum will continue?
I think the release of the Apple Watch will take the trend and development of wearables to the next level. However, I also believe in dedicated devices that are meant for a single purpose like the Soundbrenner Pulse. I'm sure over the next 1-3 years many more of these will pop up as well addressing different very specific niches.
Thanks to Florian for speaking with us, for more information on the Soundbrenner Pulse check out their Indiegogo or their website.