Developed by startup firm SoundFun Corp., the” Mirai Speaker” is being used in a new public address system installed in March in a reception area of Resona Bank’s Tokyo Chuo branch in the capital’s Nihonbashi district.
“We have introduced the product as part of our barrier-free measures,” said Ritsuko Inoue, who heads sales division No. 5 at the bank branch. “It is also turning out to be useful to people without disabilities, because it can send sound to all corners of our branch office."
A push to try the speaker came from a new law on the elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities, which took effect in April.
Kazunori Sato, the 59-year-old CEO of SoundFun, began studying speakers while working at a computer manufacturer in 2013 to help his father, who was suffering from age-related hearing loss. He set up SoundFun later the same year.
Sato learned that the sound of a gramophone is easily audible by those who are hard of hearing. His research found that passing sound through a speaker curved like the bell of a trumpet produces a sound quality that barely attenuates with distance. Sato decided to bring that finding to a practical application.
“The principle is so simple, but it was a total blind spot for existing electronics makers,” the entrepreneur said.
Using a prototype speaker to watch TV, Sato’s father said it allowed him to hear the sound without using a hearing aid. During a test session with some 300 hearing-impaired people, about 80 percent of the subjects said that the appliance allowed them to hear clearly without turning up the volume, Sato said.
A 50-year-old Tokyo office worker has been hearing-impaired since he was 5. He cannot hear sounds coming from multiple directions at the same time, so he could not have conversations with his family while watching TV alongside them. When he tried the Mirai Speaker last autumn, though, he found that he was actually hearing sounds with his left ear.
“Tears came to my eyes, because I had never expected something like that could happen,” the man said.
The man now uses the Mirai Speaker at his home.
“It makes me so happy that I can talk with my family while watching television or listening to music,” he said.
The Mirai Speaker was released in October last year. Sales soared after the law on the elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities took effect, calling on both the public and private sectors to exercise “reasonable accommodation” to remove barriers that people with disabilities are facing. More than 250 units have been sold.
Although the speaker is currently made to order, Sato’s company plans to have it manufactured on commission at a plant so that 300 units can be churned out every month.
“I hope to see our product mounted on nursing-care robots and on trains and have it penetrate overseas markets,” Sato said.
The Mirai Speaker costs 150,000 yen, excluding tax, when purchased directly from the company’s website.
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