In response to nearly all live events and large-scale gatherings being canceled for the foreseeable future, the music industry and its artists have largely pivoted to live streams and virtual experiences, causing a surge of options from Instagram Live to Twitch to Fortnite and beyond.
But while fans are assembling for at-home Zoom parties during the global coronavirus pandemic, it’s safe to say that watching DJs play whilst standing in your empty living room isn’t quite the same as the thrill of late nights on packed dance floors with friends and strangers. Right now, the world is still aching for an IRL dance experience.
There’s some hopeful news on that front, thanks to Production Club, a Los Angeles-based creative studio that’s worked on dozens of boundary-pushing live events, show visuals and experiences, including Amazon’s Intersect Festival and Skrillex’s Mothership tours.
Imagining what clubland might look like in a post-quarantine world, Production Club has conceptualized and created Micrashell, a first of its kind prototype personal protective equipment (PPE) suit designed specifically for nightlife.
Incepted by the executives of Production Club and fine-tuned by an international team of tech designers, MDs, physicists, system architects and fashion designers, Micrashell’s suit aims to give partygoers a glimpse of hope in regards to safely returning to in-person events — albeit, a dystopian, sci-fi film version of it.
Micrashell features an air-tight face shield design and intricate filtration system, with fun nightlife specific add-ons such as high-tech speakers, microphones, elements that allows wearers to vape and consume drinks without exposing themselves, and a wireless voice communication system based on proximity and orientation with user-controlled options for privacy.
Inside the air-tight, face-shielded suit is a particulate filtration system based on the N95 standard. The entire shield is clear, allowing for better visibility and for unobscured views of facial expressions. To listen to music, an integrated and controllable speaker system will offer listening options: direct from the performer or an emulation of the room’s sound based on psychoacoustics, along with bass speaker cones that allow low frequencies to be transmitted through direct contact of the body. The Micrashell is designed to be worn only on your top half, allowing easier movement for dancing, accessing the restroom and even, designers say, having sex.
While the team is working as quickly as possible to get the suit on the market, there is not yet a timeline for availability.
Here, Production Club’s Head of Inventions Miguel Risueño discusses the Micrashell creation process and how you can score your own dance floor-ready protective suit.
What elements were most prioritized when creating Micrashell?
The most important feature for the suit is safety. The second is that it needs to be appealing and non-invasive for the potential user. They need to look cool and feel comfortable in it [because] it doesn’t matter how safe it is if nobody wants to wear one. Certain design constraints were a top priority for us, like preserving the ability to go to use the restroom and even practice sex without needing to remove the suit, as funny as it sounds.
Additionally, we designed a supply system for drinks that ensures nobody besides you has access to your drink. There are a few other characteristics — like sound quality and certain lighting options — that will be nice to have, but are not primary.
How do you ensure that Micrashell complies with the government standard for filtration systems?
One good way of seeing, at a glance, what it takes for the filtration system to get approved is to check the guidelines for Approval of Air-Purifying Filtering Facepiece Respirators. Fundamentally, it comes down to following the standards defined by NIOSH and the fitting procedures by OSHA.
There’s also specific guidelines for COVID-19 policy enforcement from the FDA and how to be protected from the CDC, but ultimately, there’s a lot of reading and consulting to third-party experts. Our approach for prototyping is to follow already standardized systems and existing pieces approved by NIOSH and already implemented by other companies like 3M’s 5N11 as a foundation for our work that will need to be then further developed.
What do you foresee as the biggest challenge for people to actually use Micrashell?
Since this could be considered a socialization and culture-driven invention, it will [likely] have a higher rate of socially forward early adopters. People [might not be willing] to change the way things have been for years, but that can also be said in defense of why the suit [is a better option than] virtual platforms or solutions based on social distancing. If it doesn’t [have a great adoption rate], it will likely be because the solution isn’t needed anymore. That would make us happier, as it would mean the pandemic is over and the industry can get back to work.
Additionally, as funny as it sounds, a lot of people will be concerned about how they look in it. It happened in societies when helmets became mandatory, and it’s even happening now with face masks.
Is there an estimated cost for a Micrashell suit?
There are projections, but we are in the prototyping phase and it will fluctuate as new findings and design choices (materials, shapes and other features) are made. It would be premature [to give a specific price] at this point in time. During the current prototyping phase, we are testing materials and components in order to compare possibilities to then decide how can we be cost effective without sacrificing key features.
Until this process is done and we secure quotes from manufacturers based on those choices and constraints, we are unable to share an approximate cost. For example, certain materials or pieces are more difficult or impossible to receive in the U.S. due to certain COVID-related restrictions. However, it is our interest that as many people as possible have access to the suit, so we are trying to keep the cost as low as possible, so the price is not the reason or excuse why potential businesses don’t adopt this.
That said, our likely business model is for venues or promoters to own the suits and rent them out on a per-show basis [rather than] users buying them. The idea is for corporations, venues and entertainment groups to absorb the costs of the Micrashell and provide them to consumers when they gather in groups for events, which will also help with ensuring proper sterilization.
What are the next steps in the Micrashell process and to making Micrashell a reality?
Right now, we are in the phase of internal prototyping to spot issues with the current design and improve certain details. Our team (with the help of certain selected partners) is moving forward with implementing the suit physically before an official fabrication process starts. The suit will be broken down into pieces/disciplines and assigned teams of specialists to work on each (electronics, fashion/patterns, materials, ventilation and filtration system, software, systems integration, etc.). It’s actually very similar in nature to the production process of one of our live shows or tour designs.