“Changing the future of hearing by altering the way we think about hearing.” That is the Vision of Universal Sound Design, the developers of the “comuoon” communication support speaker. Comuoon is currently gaining popularity in medical institutions and among local governments all over the country.
Universal Sound Design were also one of the participating companies of the X-HUB “Singapore Expansion Course.” We asked the company’s CEO, Shinichiro Nakaishi, about the possibilities that comuoon offers, the challenges it faces, and where he sees the company going in the future.
- Universal Sound Design was founded in 2012. What have you been involved with thus far?
For the past 5 years, since December 2013, we’ve really only worked on “comuoon,” taking orders and concentrating on production etc. Currently, we’re working on spreading awareness of comuoon by introducing it not just to regular people but also to hospitals and local governments.
Comuoon is primarily a tool to help hearing-impaired and unimpaired people communicate so our first step is to explain how hearing-impaired people (whose numbers, including the elderly, have risen) perceive sound. It was the same with smartphones. When they first appeared, people were asking: “What the hell is this?” With new technology, you need to explain it to people so they can understand and get used to it.
It might sound obvious but people who have no problem hearing don’t know how it feels like to be hearing-impaired. That’s why we’ve enlisted the help of people with hearing disorders so they can experience the “difference in sound” right in front of unimpaired people. It’s slow work but if we can prove that “the sounds coming from comuoon are clearer” and if we can present concrete data like “how many people in the group could hear it,” then everyone will understand that “this is really cool!”
- With comuoon, you can hear sounds more clearly. What sort of problems will that fix?
It will make the communication process go much more smoothly. For example, let’s say a hospital nurse tells an elderly patient “I’m going to inject you.” Even if the patient didn’t hear them, they’d still say “Yes, yes,” in which case the nurse will grab their arm only for the person to yell “What are you doing?!”
Also, with comuoon, you won’t have to raise your voice anymore when talking to a hearing-impaired person. Many hearing-impaired people actually dislike hearing aids, so the people talking to them often have no choice but to speak in a loud voice. However, by using comuoon, impaired people can have a normal conversation without the use of hearing aids.
By doing this, we make conversations less-stressful for unimpaired people while making sounds clearer for the hearing-impaired.
A large-sized “comuoon” which is under considering introduction for the event, classrooms and so on.
- You’ve also said that you’re expanding to Asia. How are your products doing there?
First of all, the only country where we’ve done research and sold comuoon for more than a year is South Korea. However, we’re also looking to expand to Taiwan and Singapore.
Taiwan in particular is interesting. Right now, we’re talking about cooperative research and tackling the problem of hearing-impaired communication together. “Nobody is publishing studies about this, so why don’t we do it” etc.
Our evidence-gathering has also had a profound impact on our overseas expansion. A paper that we worked on with Kyushu University and Hiroshima University has actually been published in the Neuron scientific journal. Thanks to that, we’ve heard people from abroad say “If they’ve managed to get that far, then surely there’s no problem with this idea” etc.
- You participated in the X-HUB “Singapore Expansion Course.” What did you hope to get out of it?
I’ve long been interested by Singapore’s “seniors” and “hearing,” so I wanted to see what the market looked like. In other words, I was doing research.
In the end, I realized that Singapore doesn’t have a product similar to comuoon but also that their market is similar to Japan’s. Many people there dislike hearing aids and they have an aging population. Some of the local doctors actually told me “We have to speak loudly to our patients.” Even some Singapore university professors expressed interest in comuoon.
Thanks to X-HUB, I realized there was a market for our product in Singapore so right now we’re working on customizing comuoon for that country. Next, we’re going to have to figure out shipping. I think we’ll need to ship at least 1,000 devices. We’ve also been talking to local agents, so the expansion is definitely underway.
- What did you get out of the X-HUB course?
I realized that communicating with the elderly or the hearing-impaired is a big problem abroad.
Also, the course helped me get all my proposal documents in order, so when I show them to people, I get really good reactions from them. I’m really glad I participated in the course.
- Going forward, what will be your strategy for expanding to Singapore?
We want to make Singapore our base of operations for development and research. Singapore is becoming known as the “information hub” among hospitals all across Asia, which will hopefully allow word of comuoon to spread to many different countries.
Additionally, we’ll also start testing comuoon at actual Singapore hospitals. To do that, we need to assess hearing-impaired people in Singapore and the degree of their hearing loss. What can’t they hear, how much did their hearing improve etc. We will need to analyze all those findings, otherwise there won’t be a point to any of it. That’s why we first need to do a detailed, practical study in Japan.
- You’re expanding both in Japan and abroad. Which market do you give priority to?
We of course want to expand overseas but we first need to get it right in Japan. Currently, we’re engaged in research with Fukuoka University on the “Influence of Dementia On Hearing Impairment.” We’ve also started other research with Kyushu University, and eventually plan to study “Treatment of Hearing Impairment.” We’re currently concentrating our efforts on those three studies.
Then, once our studies in Japan have concluded, we’ll expand overseas and write up our research. Once we gather evidence from places outside Japan, I hope to expand even more.
Also, after giving it much thought, we started the “comuoon Test” to find more people like me who can explain our product to our users and medical institutions. The people and agents who pass the test will receive the “comuoon Adviser” certification which will grant them many perks, like the ability to lower the price of the product. In the future, we also plan to cultivate our evangelists in overseas markets.