Sony comes out to the SXSW festival here in Austin every year mainly to showcase its prototype and proof-of-concept projects, all part of its R&D-focused Future Lab program. We’ve seen some interesting touchscreen projector tech and headphones that let ambient noise in, but Sony this year moved into experimental wearables with a new device that uses movement to manipulate sound.
The wristband, part of what the company is calling its Motion Sonic project, has sensors and microphones to capture data on the rotation, acceleration, and angle of arm and leg movements. The device then translates those sounds into one of five preset functions that turn your limbs into musical instruments, let you add and control filters on an existing tune, and perform a number of other specific sound manipulations.
Some examples include clapping your hands or slapping your knee to produce and manipulate melodies and a way to turn air guitar motions into real guitar sounds. Sony also dumped a massive trove of demo videos on YouTube, showing off all the ways it prototyped and tested the product.
It seems like Sony has crafted all of these sounds manually and programmed them for certain demos and presets. When I tried the device, it only let me do a limited set of arm motions to alter a couple of songs and play rudimentary digital instruments, using my wrist and my shoulder movements to manipulate and create sounds. The audio itself was played through a Bluetooth speaker.
And that’s another catch here: the device itself doesn’t produce any sound, as it has only microphones and not speakers. That seems like a big miss because it means the device has to be paired with an app on a tablet or phone, which then streams the audio out of its own speakers or through a paired speaker. The wearable itself is also pretty clunky and uncomfortable.
So it’s not exactly as groundbreaking as some of Sony’s marketing videos make it seem, where whole dance troupes are creating elaborate, multi-track tunes as if their entire bodies are controlling two or three instruments simultaneously. Still, for a prototype without a release date or pricing, it’s a neat concept. You could certainly imagine the Motion Sonic project paving the way for smaller and more attractive wearables that go beyond fitness tracking and notification and into more creative realms.