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Flexound helps you feel music like never before

The HUMU Smart Cushion makes it possible to not only hear but feel sounds and music.Flexound Systems

Music can lift our spirits and help us relax. Now Finnish startup Flexound Systems takes this experience a step further by transforming sound into touch.

Flexound Systems wants to change how we listen to music, watch movies and play games. Imagine sitting on your couch with a pillow behind your back and music not only filling your ears, but vibrating on your skin. This is Flexound’s patented ‘feelsound’ technology. It combines high-quality sound and distributed vibration to enable users to simultaneously feel and hear sounds and music.

“Since sound films were introduced 100 years ago practically all entertainment has been designed for our eyes and ears only,” says CEO Mervi Heinaro. “Our technology adds a third sense, the sense of touch, to audio and digital entertainment and makes it a more immersive experience.”

This was proved by Flexound’s first product, the ‘Taikofon’ therapy pillow, launched a year ago. Targeted at children with autism and other disabilities, it has found a user base with therapists around the world. A child can hug the pillow or lay on it and the combination of vibration and sound helps them to calm down, focus and relax.

“When you listen to music, it releases dopamine in the brain which lowers your stress levels and makes you feel good,” Heinaro describes. “When you combine that with vibration which releases oxytocin, the ‘closeness hormone’, it has many nice effects such as increased relaxation and enjoyment.”

Multisensory entertainment

The secret of Taikofon is a built-in unit that connects to any music source wirelessly via Bluetooth, makes sound waves resonate and distributes the vibrations across the pillow. This means a user can press their ear on the pillow and feel like they are surrounded by music without disturbing others around them.

Behind feelsound is acoustics specialist Jukka Linjama, who was introduced to the idea by his occupational therapist wife two years ago.

When Linjama realised no one had done this before, he started building prototypes and in early 2015 founded Flexound with Heinaro and Tommi Immonen.

“Feelsound technology creates your own sound island. You feel the sounds on your body and skin, and not only the bass but also middle-frequencies,” says Mervi Heinaro. Image: Flexound Systems

They started with a focus on the therapy market, but soon saw the potential of technology in digital entertainment. Now Flexound is preparing to launch its first real consumer product, the ‘HUMU Smart Cushion’. Designed more for adults’ taste than Taikofon, HUMU fits nicely behind the neck and connects to the audio source of the user’s choosing.

“You can use HUMU with any audiovisual material whether its music, videos, games, movies or TV series. My mother uses it to listen to audio books,” Heinaro explains. “And HUMU is a good partner for effective relaxation. Even if you only have five minutes, you can achieve a kind of a trance by listening to music using HUMU.”

China as a springboard

While Flexound’s 10-person team is based in Espoo, Finland, the startup plans to launch HUMU first in China and on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo in early 2017.

“We have a preliminary agreement with a major Chinese retail chain that they will test market HUMU in their 200 flagship stores. If that goes well, HUMU will be stocked in all of its 1 500 stores,” Heinaro enthuses.

And the ambitions of Flexound are not limited to its own products. The startup sees major potential in licensing its technology to be integrated into everything from car and movie theatre seats to spa tables and even dentist chairs. In fact, a few prototypes are already on the way.

“Our strategic goal is to have multiple licensing partners and over 200 million euros in revenue by 2020,” says Heinaro. “It is an ambitious goal, but our board members consider their calculations conservative and we believe them.”

Flexound wants to be seen, heard and – most importantly – felt.

One characteristic of feelsound technology is that because it is close to your skin and body, the music volume can be kept low Image: Flexound Systems
By: Eeva Haaramo