Say, you’re on a jog with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. You refuse to run without music but you also want to catch up on gossip! You try to half earbud it but the wires start to wrap together, the earbud falls out every 2 seconds and you’re in this limbo state of hearing only half of your surroundings.
This was the exact problem Nicolas Sabharwal, Duke University computer science student and runner, sought to solve. Being athletes on the track team, Nicolas Sabharwal and teammate, Curtis Beach, always wanted the best of both worlds. Out of frustration with traditional headphones, Sabharwal first prototyped a hoodie with embedded side speakers, allowing him to listen to music and his surroundings at the same time.
After successfully creating a product that was useful and functional, Sabharwal ventured into the realm of wearable technologies, with the aim of allowing people to better connect with their surroundings. From there, CONDUIT Motion was born. The off-ear headphone uses conduction technology to send sound waves through bone directly to their inner ears, enabling one to listen to music or make a phone call without putting anything in their ears. Furthermore, Sabharwal’s idea extended to the addition of earbuds thus creating the most versatile headphone experience for which the company has already received a patent from the U.S. Patent Office.
Early versions of the headphone were prototyped at the Co-Lab just as the Co-Lab was coming into existence. Sabharwal recalls gaining savvy advice from students just hanging out in the space who knew something specific about certain struggles he was having. “It kept me going even when I could not find a starting point to begin solving overwhelming challenges.”
Additionally, Sabharwal appreciates the continuous support and efforts of Michael Faber and Chip Bobbert at the Co-Lab, Howiee Rhee from the I&E department and Kevin Hoche, his personal advisor. Currently from Duke, Timmy Blumberg and Ruslan Ardashev have remained in the startup. “All in all, it was more the community surrounding the Co-lab that helped me and my team mates’ ideas become reality. It’s the people around you who get you through the really tough times, like when you can’t print off a TEER Library printer.”
In the startup world, Sabharwal notes that every hurdle seemed to be the greatest challenge. Some random glimpses being… getting a prototype to actually work, writing a proper business plan and designing something that actually looked good and was mechanically viable! A few months ago, the Kickstarter and Angel funded company was sorting out manufacturing. Now, they have the production capability of 5000 units a month and are currently exploring opportunities in marketing, sales and online distribution.
“Prototyping is the act of intertwining your creativity with your hands and hacking something together that works. The whole act is creative and demanding. Once you move beyond simple prototyping you enter the realm of engineering or designing for manufacturing. The Co-Lab is a great resource for prototyping – but what it takes to mass produce a product is very different than what it takes to 3D print a plastic replica of a viable product.”
Nevertheless, Sabharwal’s success stemmed from humble beginnings and resources right here at the Co-lab. Check out the CONDUIT Sport Kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/conduitsports/conduit-sports-dynamic-bone-conducting-headphones/description