WEST GOSHEN — For enthusiasts of active sports such as snowboarding or cycling, startup company Beat Farm USA wants to make a great ride even better by adding a customized digital sound track.
Founded by John Hunchar, Ben Harmer and Kenneth Liew, three former grad students at the University of Pennsylvania, their venture merges the cultures of music and action sports with a body-activated, motion-sensing electronic device they call the Jalapeno.
“With collective strengths in the fields of business, design and engineering — as well as a shared passion for music and sports, they committed to the pursuit of Beat Farm full-time after their graduation,” reads the company’s bio on crowd-funding website Kickstarter.com.
To date, their investment has been entirely out-of-product as they craft a working prototype that translates motion into a Bluetooth signal to an app on a music-enabled gadget such as a smart phone. With this app enabled, as the motion changes, so does the music in the ear of the listener. Faster motion means faster music tempo, for example.
“We love action sports and we love music and we came up with a dream job where we are doing what we love,” said Hunchar, a 2005 West Chester Henderson grad, in an interview Monday. “And if it works out, great. And if not, then at least it’s been a great ride.”
So far, the Jalapeno has a copyright and a provisional patent as the device winds its way through the development stage and into the marketplace. Even the Jalapeno’s page on Kickstarter.com is in the preliminary stage and is set to open this month. The Jalapeno’s product launch date is October 2014.
Here’s the concept:
The creators wanted to make a portable device that remixes music in real-time based on motions of the user. They needed a gizmo that was portable and rugged, so they conducted extensive user research and in-field testing and held countless design-and-hack sessions to create the working prototype.
During the testing, “we’ve certainly broken a lot of them,” Hunchar said.
At the heart of the Jalapeno is a printed circuit board that is being assembled and fine-tuned for production at ETEMCO in Lancaster. Because of the changing landscape of tech devices, the developers are still testing old and new models of phones for the widest range of compatibility. The current software has been developed for Android, but software development for the iPhone’s iOS will be completed before the product launch, the creators say. Compatibility testing will continue throughout all final product fulfillment.
The app has personal settings for motion and music. Users can calibrate the sensitivity of carves, jumps and spins; adjust the rate that beats build and fade; and toggle on/off other sound effects.
One other significant challenge is designing for manufacturers. To estimate the cost and time for production precisely, the developers sought quotes from various manufacturing facilities nationwide. And to ensure the timely fulfillment for orders, they’ve elected to offer one color exclusively: jalapeno red.
Moisture was another significant challenge, according to Hunchar. The USB port in particular was difficult to design for a device with snowboarding enthusiasts as a prime customer base, and Hunchar said the beta testers have included rowing crews and equestrians. The product is sold as water resistant and capable of withstanding rain and snow exposure. but it is not waterproof.
They are also working with musicians to make various instrumental tracks that will translate well to the device and its end users. And that presents another level of complexity to the process.
“Music copyright is a very tricky area,” Hunchar said.
The Jalapeno’s music is basically four-layer loops of various instruments and genres with two- to three-minute tracks created in the ubiquitous wav format. This length keeps the mix interesting and the file sizes from getting too big.
The company has also developed a line of Beat Farm apparel and accessories, such as hoodies, T-shirts and stickers. The base price to get an “early bird” device in October is $199. To get a package with the accessories, the cost is $299.
» For more information online, visit beatfarmusa.com.
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