Annoyed with your headphones? These engineering students are hoping to help.

Device for eliminating tangled headphones takes home top prize at ASME competition.

University of Michigan students took home first place at the 7th annual IShow in Indianapolis, claiming bragging rights and a $10,000 prize. The IShow competition is put on by the American Society for Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and brings out a host of great engineering ideas from schools across America. This year’s winning invention is the TurtleCell, a novel smartphone case that keeps ear bud cords from tangling.

Most people will simply plunge their headphones into their pocket when they are done with them. When it’s time to retrieve them again, they come out in some sort of Celtic knot that is next to impossible to undo.

The two mechanical engineering students behind the device, Paul Schrems and Nick Turnbull, presented the prototype to a panel of business experts and venture capitalists. Their presentation included a comprehensive business plan that addressed factors such as manufacturability, financing, and target markets.

Schrems had a background in 3D printing, and they put that to good use throughout their many iterations. As Turnbull described to the Ann Arbor News, “We built our first prototype Jan. 1, 2012. I think officially we’re on version 32 by now.”

In each version, the hard-shell cases became thinner and simpler. The first iteration contained over 30 parts made on the 3-D printer. The current version has only 15 parts and is easier to assemble.

The idea isn’t ending with the competition. They initiated a Kickstarter campaign offering their latest version and have investors interested in the development. The current version adds only a quarter-inch of thickness and about two ounces of weight. The cases come in a variety of colors, and the headphones are built-in.

They face competition, primarily in the form of Bluetooth headphones. The Bluetooth versions are wireless, so there are no cords to get tangled in the first place. The drawback is that they are often larger than ear buds, and versions that are ear buds are easy to misplace. The nice feature of the TurtleCell is that the ear buds are stored with the phone, albeit at the expense of space and weight.

Novel ideas don’t always get good backing. The Kickstarter campaign failed to reach the $50,000 in 45 days that was allotted. The 196 backers managed $19,000, but to get the concept to market, there must be sufficient interest. Until word gets around and enough people get frustrated with their tangled headphones, TurtleCell may have to push on “slow and steady” to win this race.


The promotional video for TurtleCell’s Kickstarter campaign is below. More about the product can be found on their website.



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