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National Winner

Air Talk-Starter

The Air Talk-Starter can shoot an air vortex ring towards the head of a person to indicate the direction the communication is coming from, thereby signaling the beginning of conversation.

  • We developed this air cannon for talking support.

  • Air Talk-Starter Explanatory Video

    Air Talk-Starter Explanatory Video

  • Air Talk-Starter can signal to the partner the beginning of conversation.

  • Air cannon theory.

  • Improved prototype based on fluid engineering.

  • Experiments with deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

What it does

The Air Talk-Starter can shoot an air vortex ring towards the head of a person being talked to in order to indicate the direction the communication is coming from, thereby signaling to the partner the beginning of conversation.

Your inspiration

Team member Shitara, who is Deaf, thought that when a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person talks to someone without hearing loss and vice versa, it is confusing and may be difficult to resolve misunderstandings. In addition, he felt that vibrations from smartphones and smartwatches are unsuitable for talking to the Deaf or hard-of-hearing because they force him to pay attention to the device. The Air Talk-Starter project began when we realized that the air cannon "enables haptic sensations to be presented to a person at a distance" and "is not a vibration, but a natural haptic sensation, so there is no need to feel annoyed."

How it works

Air vortex rings are doughnut-shaped vortices ejected from an air cannon that can travel long distances across the room and exert a soft and noticeable force on human skin and hair. The system we have developed is simple and is actuated by five loudspeakers attached to the air cannon housing, which forces the air inside of it outwards to generate air vortex rings. Furthermore, we found that when the air vortex ring contacts a human hair it vibrates as an oscillating element, resulting in a higher haptic recognition accuracy than when the ring contacts bare skin. By using this phenomenon, it is possible for the user to recognize the direction from which the air vortex ring is applied to the head and thereby recognize it as the direction of communication.

Design process

After the concept of Air Talk-Starter was born, we had many discussions with Shitara who is Deaf. The air cannon we had developed up to that point had low power, low range, and low directional stability for installation as infrastructure. Therefore, we improved the force and travel distance of the air vortex ring based on the theory of air vortex rings in fluid engineering, and increased the diameter of the air cannon's aperture, the loudspeaker's diameter, and the number of loudspeakers. In addition, to stabilize the direction of the air cannon, we modified the aperture to be volcano-shaped instead of a simple circular aperture. In developing the air cannon, the sound of the air cannon was reduced from 71dB to 55dB by dampening the waveform that drives the loudspeaker. Using this system we have been able to create an option for introducing the system not only into the DeafSpace, an architectural space concept for the Deaf, but also into environments for people without hearing loss. This system provides a less-intrusive alternative to other audible systems that can create additional barriers.

How it is different

Existing methods of talking to a d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing person include eye contact, tapping on the shoulder, tapping on a desk, and throwing objects. The problem is that if a Deaf or hard of hearing person is not within visible or physical range, you cannot talk to them. Hearing aids have been studied since the 1800s, but they have not yet reached a level where they can transmit sound in the same way as perceived by someone without hearing loss. Although methods have been developed to convert sound into physical vibrations, they cannot indicate the direction of speech unless multiple hearing aids are attached to the body. In addition, only Deaf and hard-of-hearing people wear these devices and daily use can be uncomfortable because of the attention it brings to the user. The Air Talk-Starter can indicate the direction spoken to a deaf or hard-of-hearing person anywhere in a room without the person wearing anything.

Future plans

Through repeated experiments with deaf and hard-of-hearing people, we will obtain their feedback and continue to improve the system. In parallel with this, we will continue to develop our design so that a camera attached to the air cannon will detect a hand wave of a person talking to the target, calculate the coordinates of the target, and direct the air cannon towards that person. Aiming for adoption by 2030, we will conduct experiments to introduce the system into schools for the deaf and other DeafSpaces, as well as making the air cannon quieter for a less-invasive design.


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