A new product for music and dance fanatics

By Abby Wojcik

Assistant Features Editor

shoe

Like when peanut butter was first combined with chocolate, dancing and music are now being combined in a new way for the first time. From Canisius College students, alumni, and faculty comes a new technology called Electroskip.

Electroskip has been in the works since around 2010 when it was only a very primitive idea that Jamie O’Neil, Communication Studies professor at Canisius and co-founder of Electroskip, came up with called Skippisox. These were socks that you wear and would make noise. “[Skippisox] was a different project than Electroskip,” O’Neil stated. “But it was the foundation in some ways.”

O’Neil began collaborating with Bill Sack, the co-inventor of Electroskip and adjunct professor at Canisius College, when both of them were exhibiting their projects at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Sack was working with robotics to make music, and there, O’Neil and Sack combined their two fields and Electroskip was born.

They are still in developmental stages, but Electroskip has grown tremendously since Skippisox. Their product is a wearable technology that goes on your shoes and detects when a person puts pressure on their heels or toes, and how much. That data is sent to a computer where it is translated and the magic takes place.

“We have a DJ who can take that input and pretty much do whatever they want with it,” says Jon Mrowczynski, a recent Canisius graduate and the president of Electroskip. “So we’ve actually just been making music, but you could control visuals, or servo-motors, or make toast. You know, it doesn’t really matter because our software can translate the messages into any data form.”

In addition to being the president and product engineer of Electroskip LLC, Jon Mrowczynski is also an adjunct professor at Canisius teaching physics labs. As a student at Canisius, he majored in physics with a minor in computer science. He initially got involved in Electroskip after several DMA professors showed it at Electronica, a Canisius convention where Mrowczynski was able to get on board with them.

Jamie O’Neil talked about how much Electroskip has prospered thanks to Mrowczynski’s contribution to the business. “He is so bright and so hardworking that I just think we’re going to be successful,” O’Neil said.

You may have seen Electroskip when they were featured at a Buffalo Ted X talk this past October. Mrowczynski stated that this was “our biggest event so far that we did, and I think that got us a decent amount of publicity. It was a lot of fun, but kind of nerve-racking because that was the first time that we ever had four dancers perform at the same time and that was the first time where all of the music that people heard was only produced by the dancers and it was live.”

The Ted X demonstration was also a beneficial opportunity to give a more in-depth description of Electroskip. “We found that even if we give, like, a short explanation, people still don’t really understand that the sound is coming from the dancers,” Mrowczynski commented.

An upcoming and anticipated event for Electroskip is Cube Fest this August in Virginia, where they will be featured in the largest 3D sound venue in North America. This will be a much bigger dance venue than they are used to; however, it will be an amazing opportunity for them to collaborate with a new DJ, Electrobro, and experiment with new technology.

O’Neil commented on how scared and nervous he is for this event, but also how excited he is to show off Electroskip. “It’s a 3D sound space, with 128 audio speakers, with discrete control so they can put anywhere in physical space in there,” O’Neil stated. It is incredible and overwhelming, but Electroskip is honored to be headlining Cube Fest this upcoming summer.

With great progress under their belt and exciting things on the horizon, Electroskip has also experienced struggles to get to where there are now. As any start-up company, money is something they need. A Kickstarter campaign was made where people were very generous very quickly. That money was initially used for development of the product, but now Electroskip needs funds for supplies and merchandise for their upcoming events and publicity appearances. Overall, they need a strong fan base and for people to be aware of Electroskip, and for them to talk about it.

Mrowczynski also explained that their biggest problem might be deciding who to target as an audience or as customers. “We have too many people who are interested in this that we’ve talked to,” he stated. “Parents who eager to buy this for their children, we have dancers, DJs and musicians, researchers, medical people, business individuals. It’s too much.” There are so many demographics that Electroskip can attract that it is almost overwhelming to the company and makes it difficult to pick a direction for the product. As it further develops and improves, they hope to narrow Electroskip’s market to make it as successful as possible.

One of the goals for the business is to apply it to the medical field. Mrowczynski said, “Every time we talk to any investor or business advisor, they always have some new idea about what medical application this could be used for. So that’s another field that we’d like to get into.”

When someone breaks, fractures, or sprains something on their leg, foot, or ankle, they are told that they can’t put a certain amount of weight on that leg. Currently, the way to let someone know how much weight they are putting on themselves is to rock back and forth on a scale. When they reach a certain weight point, they are told not to go beyond what this feels like. This is a very amateur way of measurement because after a while, a person forgets or is not paying enough attention. This could lead to them hurting themselves and cause further damage.
Electroskip’s sensors can detect how many pounds are being put on them. When they are getting close to the amount that should not be reached, a warning can be sent to an app to alert the person and prevent potential harm.

It could help develop therapies for people who walk on their toes, people with autism, and people with Parkinson’s disease. Because dancing is often used as therapy for these condition, Electroskip can help by encouraging exercise in a new way. Because Electroskip will eventually be compatible with an app, it could control the music being played. The more a person runs, the more of the music they enjoy would be played as a reward.

“Ultimately, we are shooting for this to be like a toy where you could buy this for your friends or parents could buy it for their kids,” Mrowczynski said. “Then they can just attach it to their shoe and just make music with it using an app on their phone instead of a computer.”

O’Neil echoes Mrowczynski’s statement by saying, “Our primary market is art and entertainment and music. We need to create a culture . . . of people who are willing to try it and use it. And that’s a huge challenge.”

Making Electroskip the business it is today would not have been possible if not for the blessing of the supportive community at Canisius. Because the departments of communications, computer science, business, and others are able to come together in a way that would be impossibly competitive at research university, Electroskip has been able to flourish. Even the president of Canisius, John Hurley, was generous enough to have the College pay for their patent of the Electroskip’s technology to keep their progress moving in the right direction.

Look out for an upcoming event hosted by Electroskip in the near future where you will be able to see the product in action and try it out for yourself with complementary Paula’s Donuts.

Mrowczynski expressed how passionate he is about this Canisius company with The Griffin, “We all are very hardworking individuals and we are very much looking forward to [Electroskip] taking off.”

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