New technology and research trends in a wide range of industries are setting the stage for a dramatic reinvention of the home interface; how people live in and with their homes. This article is the first in a series of innovations that are being developed that could transform the home as it’s currently known.
With the rise of HDTVs and programming, 3D technology spreading to the general consumer market, and mobile devices being used to stream more and more media it may seem sometimes that audio technology has been left behind.
Soundsystems everywhere, from cell phone speakers to home stereos to large scale stadium systems, operate on a basic principle of electromagnetic vibration. These speakers require a cone, coil, magnet, space to vibrate, and dimensions to produce limited ranges of sound frequencies. Certainly speakers have advanced in sound quality, connection quality, noise loss, distortion, etc…. but still fall prey to their physical restraints.
But get ready everyone, all that may be about to change.
Researchers in China published an extraordinarily innovative technique for creating nanotube speakers that are, “flexible, stretchable, and transparent and can be tailored into many shapes and sizes, freestanding or placed on a variety of rigid or flexible insulating surfaces” (See the full article here: [http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/nl8020750z)]).
In the next generation home that embraces this technology when it is developed commercially the walls themselves will be the source of sound. The television faces will speak from their positions, not a speaker placed somewhere else. Surround sound will take on a whole new meaning, with speakers literally wrapping around the user in 360 degrees to provide a fully immersive auditory experience.
These speakers operate off of what is known in physics as the thermoacoustic effect, where sound pressure waves are created through temperature changes rather than physical vibrations. This makes the speaker ideal for surface/screen mounting, an option that is physically impossible for conventional cone based speakers.
The nanotubes are grown through a special technique where carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are drawn out to form the characteristic “thin-film” array that can then be used as a speaker. The arrays’ electrical properties cause precise sound waves to be produced using AC signals to create sound decibel levels that are virtually identical to the levels speakers coils can produce.
The speakers are remarkable for several other special attributes:
- The speakers are strechable up to 200% without any sound degradation.
- The speakers are 80-90% transparent, so they can be placed directly over viewing screens
- The speakers are flexible, so can be placed on rigid or flexible surfaces
- Multiple speaker “cells” can be placed together to create larger speaker areas
- SPLs of the speakers are comparable to coil speakers and can be analyzed with normal audio equipment
Applications for this new technology are wide-ranging, from upgraded “talking tape” (a construction tool that lets pieces of tape identify objects and purposes) to new television and computer models which omit conventional speakers.
CNT speakers offer a revolution in sound production, completely shedding the traditional ideas of sound wave creation to offer a highly sophisticated and innovative way of updating our audio pleasure the way we have with our visual entertainment.
The next article will discuss how the next generation home will also be able to transform its very walls to become screens of light, images and video with new OLED technology.