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Material Turns All Surfaces into Stereo 142

Posted by samzenpus
from the listen-to-anything dept.
An anonymous reader writes "According to James Bullen of NXT, 'The UK ministry of defense was experimenting with a way to dampen the sound in helicopters and developed a honeycombed material that did the opposite — conducted sound.' Cambridge-based NXT christened it "SurfaceSound" and arranged for it to be crafted into Toyota cars, Gateway computers, Hallmark greeting cards and more. NXT is working on ways to put the technology to use in touch screens that promise to be part of a new rage in 'natural interfaces' for computers, mobile telephones, televisions and other electronic devices. Toyota has SurfaceSound in the head liners of four of its car models. NXT recently made a deal with greeting card giant Hallmark to use the technology in 'big cards with big sound' when opened, Bullen said."
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Material Turns All Surfaces into Stereo

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  • by loftwyr (36717) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @10:14PM (#21978700)
    I want them to make me a suit of that stuff!
  • by andreyvul (1176115) <andrey...vul@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @10:17PM (#21978722)
    Now possible!
    Just wrap the FlexiHalo (tm) speaker around your head and listen in infinity.0!
  • Stereo = misnomer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by themushroom (197365) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @10:19PM (#21978752) Homepage
    Stereo means there are two sound sources. Not to say that one couldn't put two separate panels (which I presume is the case with the car systems) to handle each channel, but in the case of the greeting cards it's gonna be monaural.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Hm? just position them at the far ends of the card. Don't use the whole card as a sound source.
      Would allow two sources almost a foot apart, enough for a human to pick up stereo.
    • Re:Stereo = misnomer (Score:4, Informative)

      by ikkonoishi (674762) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @12:08AM (#21979644) Journal
      You can divide the surface up and project different sounds from different sections of the panel. Thus you could have the right side of the monitor project the right audio channel and vice versa.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by MisterSquid (231834)

        and vice versa
        Having the right audio channel project the right side of the monitor would be completely awesome!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dexotaku (1136235)
      Stereo != 2 channels. Stereo == anything greater than a point source [monaural]. 5.1 surround is multichannel stereo, for example.
    • True, but it could probably easily be used for individual speakers, only flatter and smaller.
    • by Nevandal (1216688)
      Actually stereo means two or more sound sources...and actually, that's even wrong. Stereo truly means something was recorded from two or more positions and then reproduced using speakers. The popular usage of the word stereo (two speakers or two channel recording) is the misnomer ;) I'd also like to point out that this will probably cost 5 times as much as a normal speaker, and sound 5 times worse.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @10:22PM (#21978778)
    That's great, I've always hated mono surfaces. So flat and everything.

    With any luck, in a few years we will be able to turn six surfaces into 5.1!
    • Well a basic room has six surfaces so perhaps you've got a good idea there. I'd patent it if I were you, before I do!
    • by hey! (33014)
      My first reaction on reading the headline was that the researchers had rediscovered Peyote.
  • by corsec67 (627446) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @10:22PM (#21978782) Homepage Journal
    Not turning any surface into a speaker.

    For that you need something like these speakers from Thinkgeek [thinkgeek.com], which stick on to any surface and make that surface the speaker.
  • Demolition (Score:5, Funny)

    by therpham (953844) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @10:23PM (#21978796)
    Great, now we can finally conveniently announce the demolition of the Earth when the time comes!
    • Re:Demolition (Score:5, Interesting)

      by phillymjs (234426) <slashdot@stCURIEango.org minus physicist> on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @10:25PM (#21978808) Homepage Journal
      Damn you for beating me to making the reference while I was looking up the relevant passage!

      "Then there was a slight whisper, a sudden spacious whisper of open ambient sound. Every hi fi set in the world, every radio, every television, every cassette recorder, every woofer, every tweeter, every mid-range driver in the world quietly turned itself on. Every tin can, every dust bin, every window, every car, every wine glass, every sheet of rusty metal became activated as an acoustically perfect sounding board. Before the Earth passed away it was going to be treated to the very ultimate in sound reproduction, the greatest public address system ever built. But there was no concert, no music, no fanfare, just a simple message."

      ~Philly
  • Ha! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Mr. Ksoft (975875) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @10:25PM (#21978812) Homepage
    Now I can give Earth a demonstration of the greatest announcement system in the history of the universe before I demolish it for that hyperspace bypass.
  • by davidsyes (765062) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @10:26PM (#21978818) Homepage Journal
    To the UK government and NXT for turning what would have been a money-sucking venture (in the near-term application, assuming war/conflict/helo-deployment NOT inevitable) into a commercial spin-off and apparent success.

    (No, I'm not dissin' DARPA, I just don't know of/haven't seen in the new an intended DOD effort that nearly-IMMEDIATELY spun off into commercial success. I don't doubt they exist, I just have to Google them...)

    Now, I wonder if those sound conductors will work in love chambers... gotta keep the neighbors awake...
    • No, I'm not dissin' DARPA, I just don't know of/haven't seen in the new an intended DOD effort that nearly-IMMEDIATELY spun off into commercial success.

      umm...you're using it, dude.

      DARPA isn't in the business of churning out commercial 'toys'. Medicine, aircraft, autonomous vehicles...all much longer range ideas. Stroll through their current list of projects [darpa.mil]. Some very interesting things.
    • by greg1104 (461138)
      Ah, if only it were true. The underlying technology was patented by Britain defense researchers in 1991 and licensed to Verity Group, a big audio company, in 1996 (see the end of this article [vxm.com] for a readable history here). Verity has been the company funding the money-sucking venture all this time. Even with their resources, it's taken them ten years to get this technology into the market in any big way. NXT is hardly a poster-child for quick commercial spin-off success.
    • by Yetihehe (971185)

      Now, I wonder if those sound conductors will work in love chambers... gotta keep the neighbors awake...
      This will be good addition to my Parabolic reflector dish [xkcd.com]
    • by HEbGb (6544)
      Are you being sarcastic? NXT is a dismal failure in business, and has lost millions over the years, and is nowhere close to profitable. Sounds like they burned money even faster than the government.
  • Whatever happened to hypersonic sound? I know the company still exists.. but I see no product in the last 4-5 years.. and how would it work with this? Beamed directly at this stuff..
  • Kinda takes me back [pocketcalculatorshow.com]
  • by edwardpickman (965122) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @10:30PM (#21978858)
    Just imagine a Hawaiian shirt that not only looks loud but is loud.
  • by scatters (864681) <mark@scatters.net> on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @10:36PM (#21978904)
    The British Army now has ideal way to deliver the World's Funniest Joke to the battlefield. They are reportedly looking for a large number of English to Persian translators willing to work in isolated conditions.
    • I don't know what is worse, that I got the joke or that other moderators did as well...
       
      I just hope they make certain the translators only ever see one word each, because we all know what happened last time when they translated it to German...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by shellbeach (610559)

      They are reportedly looking for a large number of English to Persian translators willing to work in isolated conditions.
      Unfortunately for the army, the end result was Farsical ...
  • Sterno!? (Score:5, Informative)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @10:54PM (#21979058) Homepage
    I misread the headline as "Material Turns All Surfaces into Sterno [wikipedia.org]"

    which, although a boon to the catering industry, would be somewhat troubling.

    Fortunately, they're just talking about NXT [nxtsound.com]'s cool speaker transducers that have been around for quite some time now (yawn...). Given that the laws of acoustics do still apply, even if the speaker is flat, the "cabinet" needs to be properly designed to produce good sound.

    I've got a portable speaker that incorporates the technology. Logitech mm28 -- I think I paid $15 for it, although it's discontinued now. Although it does sound fantastic for a tiny $15 speaker, the bass is a bit lacking, and the thing distorts all to hell when the volume is turned up. To be fair, it can be driven *quite* loud, which seems to indicate that the transducers are quite powerful, and that Logitech forgot to include some sort of volume-limiting circuit. It's more or less the most simplistic NXT design you could imagine, as it's a rounded rectangle panel with an NXT transducer a third of the way from either edge.

    All in all, with a bit of refinement, it could be turned into a great product, and it's easy to see how there could be many applications for this. Even though it might not produce audiophile sound (at least, not as lotitech had it configured), I imagine that it could be quite handy for "hiding" speakers in various locations, and could definitely be used to improve the sound quality of mobile phones. It also avoids many of the pitfalls of other "flat panel" designs.

    Poking around their website reveals that they've got a pretty nifty portfolio of technologies backed up by some hard science -- they've even applied the same technology (in reverse) to produce touch screens.
    • I bought a pair of unused 'flat panel' IBM speakers (also NXT) 3 years ago. On ebay, for 99p.

      They're really good, for little speakers.
      • I heard those "fancy" flat speakers had crap for bass.
        • "Flat panel" speakers can be made in two ways:

          1) Squash a regular voice coil speaker cone, and shove it into a tiny cabinet. This is obviously not optimal.

          2) Make a flat object to vibrate to produce your sound. This can cause all sorts of unwanted resonances, the elimination of which is one of NXT's primary innovations.

          Bass, however, still is a problem no matter what design you choose. Because lower frequencies have longer wavelengths, the object producing said waves needs to have a great enough range of
          • I think the idea of a very flat mid/high speaker set with a sub under the desk for the lows is a great idea.

            Mount the LCD to the wall and embed some speakers in the wall next to it to eliminate anything on the desk at all, and you've got a winner.

            Better yet, make all the walls, the ceiling and the floor be speakers and you're really winning.

            Didn't someone invent paint that turned a wall into a speaker? Or am I imagining things and need to go to sleep?
          • by qupada (1174895)
            I have a comparatively ancient (6 years I think I've had them) set of 2.1 TDK speakers with NXT panels. They have to do it that way, the subwoofer (I use this term only because they do, 3 inch drivers don't really count) makes up for the lack of bass response in the speakers. Overall they're adequate, not terribly loud but clear enough sound, at least in any case the satellites don't take up much desk space, and the sub/amp provides a decent heated footrest. (See http://dansdata.com/s150.htm [dansdata.com] for pictures
          • by DirkGently (32794)
            "Bass, however, still is a problem no matter what design you choose. Because lower frequencies have longer wavelengths, the object producing said waves needs to have a great enough range of vibration to produce those wavelengths. (mountains and weather systems can produce massive kilometers-long sound waves that are able to literally circle the globe, but I digress...) Because flat panel speakers are by their very nature, flat, the range of motion for the panel is limited to the depth of the cabinet, which
    • You've nailed it pretty good. The other major problem with this type of transducer is that given the "cone" is a flat surface when driven very hard at all it will produce modes that will not be conducive to good audio. There is no solution to this other than to dampen each mode out of each surface. This is not practical in a real world sense for most parts. It can be used at moderate levels but for loud powerful accurate full range sound (no its not bose wave radio) go with a traditional set of speaker
    • by pimpimpim (811140)
      You can still get NXT desktop speakers, the appropriately shaped sonicum speakers [amazon.com], but at a price!

      However, as you say, the cabinet is important. To avoid using another power connector I especially wanted a USB speaker, even though I know that these can be pretty sucky. I listened to the ultra-flat speakers (I guess using NXT), but it screws up all the depth of the music you're listening to. I tried some strange unstable conic device, but it just created noise at higher volumes. Then there is a pretty expe

    • I actually thought "what the hell is the use for that....." lol
  • by QuantumFlux (228693) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @11:00PM (#21979096)
    Ministry of Defence? I would have thought it would be developed by the Ministry of Sound...
  • by Stumbles (602007) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @11:04PM (#21979140)
    the Vogons have been able to do that for a long time and do wirelessly.
  • by ecavalli (1216014) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @11:07PM (#21979160) Homepage
    Sure, taxes are great, but I'd like to see how much cash the military makes on the amazing tech their scientists come up with.

    Between stuff like this (mil-spec gear modified for use in civilian life) and the medical breakthroughs they've created over the years, if the military were a standard corporation, they'd have cash coming out of every orifice not used for firing projectiles or enticing teenagers to join their ranks.
    • by Loibisch (964797)
      > they'd have cash coming out of every orifice not used for firing projectiles or enticing teenagers to join their ranks.
      That still doesn't leave much room with them talking out of their ass like 90% of the time...
  • by waterwingz (68802) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @11:12PM (#21979190) Homepage
    NXT has been flogging this technology for years. This is nothing new but every few years they seem to get the media to think it is.
  • SurfaceSound describes DML products that, with appropriate excitation, are capable of emitting sound through bending wave action. All that is required is a self-supporting surface and an exciter. The use of materials not normally associated with loudspeaker diaphragms offers up new industrial design opportunities.

    Source [nxtsound.com]

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't you notice the material vibrating, especially if it's a clear layer over a screen? I notice the smallest of vibrations caused by speakers that aren'

    • Okay .. I'll correct you if you are wrong. The "smallest vibrations" that you think you see are actually very low frequency vibration. You will not see the audio frequencies - sorry but your eyes are not that sharp. You probably need to see some of their stuff to believe me. I have.
  • figures (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @12:01AM (#21979570) Homepage Journal
    all the useful ideas come from either porn or war
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @12:01AM (#21979574)
    I dread pulling up at a traffic light next to a baser, especially once they start coating their cars with this shit. I'll have to coat my car with the same material, sample their noise and play it back a half-wavelength out of phase so I can cancel it out. If that doesn't work, plan B is the monster truck lift kit.
  • I smell another fancy new innovation that despite being slick and nifty further reduces the quality of sound reproduction, like over-compressed music files and cheap but stylish earbuds. I'm a cranky audiophile, I admit it.

    (I say this even though I didn't RTFA of course.)
    • I am sure sooner or later someone will cater to the audiophile crowd too.

      Say... a $5000 per square foot carpet that plays the sounds all around you. Or $10000 per roll wallpapers.
      They'll probably throw in a couple of those $400 wooden knobs in the deal just to sweeten the pot.
  • Note that NXT is located in Cambridge, England, not Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • by postbigbang (761081) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @12:57AM (#21980064)
    of BES speaker fame. He used to make speakers out of styrofoam. They sounded great. His demo was using a door as a sound conductor. Honeycombs are nothing new at all. Look up 'geostats' to find them.
  • Will this be possible with this technology combined with OLED? That would be totally cool...just like the science fiction books.
  • the "Honeycomb Hideout" was shut down by local law enforcement officials...
  • by Chas (5144) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @02:02AM (#21980512) Homepage Journal

    I can see this at Christmas.

    *Little Jimmy* Here you go grandma!

    *Grandma* Why thank you Jimmy you're such a

    {100 decibels} WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS!...

    *Grandma* Augh!

    [THUD]

    *Little Jimmy* Grandma? Grandma? Why'd you go to sleep?

  • Hm... (Score:1, Redundant)

    by darkhitman (939662)
    So now we can make all the surfaces in a car into speakers? That would certainly make this [xkcd.com] more effective...
  • This is a pet peeve of acousticians everywhere.

    Sound and vibration are DAMPED.

    DAMPENING is for dishtowels.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      This is a pet peeve of acousticians everywhere.
      Sound and vibration are DAMPED.
      DAMPENING is for dishtowels.


      It's probably based on HiFi magazine terminology:

      "Using that technology, you will be soaked with great dewily bass,
      humid treble and moist mid-range audio. Be careful though to
      use properly luted cables or you will get drowned by the leaked
      wet noise."
  • ...I used to do the same thing with furniture and walls in my college apartment using a 5 string fretless bass and a 400 watt GK head.

  • 'The UK ministry of defense was experimenting with a way to dampen the sound in helicopters and developed a honeycombed material that did the opposite -- conducted sound.'
  • Now I want a new motorcycle helmet.....
    Bluetooth and surface sound.....
  • I've recently been at IRCAM [ircam.fr], where I could hear their wave field synthesis sound reproduction system:

    Using a wall of flat panels as speakers [ircam.fr], they have the ability to turn a room into a sonic landscape, where the audience can walk around multiple moving sound sources as if virtual speakers where spread in the room. In a way it's a kind of analog to lightfield rendering [stanford.edu] in image synthesis.

    The effect has to be heard to fully grasp how this represents the next step beyond X.1 sound reproduction. If you get a c
  • Of course (Score:5, Funny)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday January 10, 2008 @10:34AM (#21983364)

    Hallmark to use the technology in 'big cards with big sound' when opened

    That's good, because honeycomb speakers are big...yeah yeah yeah! They're not small...no no no!

  • At long, long last we have Hallmark greeting cards that are stereo speakers. And pigs that glow under UV light. And iPhones.
  • "The wow factor is when people hear it. We're going where other people can't put loudspeakers."

    I'm already so happy with all the people with loudspeakers in their cars.

    Now I'll get to be entertained by folks wearing loudspeakers on their jackets.

    Yippee.

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