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OwnPhones’ Earbuds Aim for Perfect Fit With A Sense of Style

A visual artist who spent the last eight years in New York City has detoured to San Diego and into entrepreneurship.

The new pursuit seems to fit Itamar Jobani — maybe just as well as the custom-made, 3-D printed earbuds that he plans to turn out with his new enterprise, OwnPhones.

Jobani, his four employees and roughly a score of consultants are still working out many of the technical challenges, but they have seized on some innovative ideas — including a business process they are rushing to patent.

The company has created operating prototypes and is working to deliver its first production earbuds in March, with financial help from crowdfunding website Kickstarter. As an idea, it’s a hit: The company surpassed its fundraising goal of $250,000 in early August, at the campaign’s halfway mark, and passed $300,000 Aug. 6. The campaign ends Aug. 25.

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The earbuds get signals from their media player via Bluetooth short-range radio technology. Each earbud would contain a tiny speaker, a board of electronics — again, very small — and a battery.

A Selling Point

Several things make the project innovative. One is its aim to create a custom product for the masses, starting at a mass-market price of $300. Custom-fitted earbuds are already available, Jobani said, but their average cost is about $800, and they can easily exceed $1,000.

A second innovation is that the earbuds are separate. No wire connects them.

Jobani also says he wants to innovate by taking a technological accessory and turning it into a fashion accessory.

A third innovation is the process for customizing each set of earbuds, for which the company is pursuing a patent. Buyers would use the OwnPhones app to make a video of his or her ears, holding a standard-size credit card next to their earlobes for scale. With the video, the ears’ shape and dimensions are calculated. Then, the buyer chooses a color and style, and the earbuds are made with a 3-D printer. Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP is helping the company with its patent filing.

The process of converting pictures to a form is called photogrammetry, and OwnPhones’ software for that is still a work in progress. OwnPhones reports that it has automated 80 percent of the process and wants to take it further.

The project was inspired by one of Jobani’s pet peeves: He likes to jog, and he kept knocking loose his store-bought earbuds while doing so.

Its vision was also informed by the 34-year-old, Israeli-born artist’s background, having earned his graduate degree from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. Jobani has used digital tools for his art. He’s familiar with 3-D printing and has worked with computer numerical-controlled routers. Jobani’s artwork in New York included 3-D printed dresses that conformed to the shape of the models wearing them.

Artistic Flair

OwnPhones plans to offer earbuds in many designs — an area where Jobani can put his art school training to use. There is more than one skull design, as well as a whimsical design where a little human face appears to be peering out of the ear canal as if through theater curtains. Abstract designs are also in evidence. The flowing “Nautical Deco” design looks as if a group of miniature octopuses are waving their tentacles from the ear canal.

The earbuds are made with various materials. A few high-end models cross the line into jewelry, with gold or silver on the surfaces that face the outside world.

Other technological features Jobani would like to incorporate include a “soundscaping” feature that proposes to filter extraneous noise from the hearer, yet permit certain tones — perhaps an alarm clock or commuter train announcements — to get through.

The company also proposes a technological fix for a situation that arises in the kinds of offices that millennials prefer: the open-plan offices devoid of cubicles and heavy on shared workspace. The fix is a light-emitting diode on the earbud. A red light indicates someone is deep into a project and shouldn’t be bothered; a green light indicates that person is open to being approached for a conversation. Yellow is in between.

OWNPHONES

CEO: Itamar Jobani

Revenue: Company in pre-revenue stage

No. of local employees: Five full-time employees, about 20 consultants

Investors: Self-funded, with a Kickstarter campaign in progress

Headquarters: Little Italy

Year founded: 2013

What makes the company innovative: Produces the world’s first 3-D printed, personalized, wireless smart earbuds

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