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Stretchable, Flexible, Transparent Nanotube Speakers 76

Posted by timothy
from the buzzword-bingo-now-proven-soluble dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Chinese researchers have realised that a sheet of nanotubes behaves like a speaker when you send an audio current through it. The technology opens the way for a range of new versatile speaker systems. A video shows the speakers in action — some are stretched, one has even been sewn into a flag."
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Stretchable, Flexible, Transparent Nanotube Speakers

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  • Audio wallpaper? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:29PM (#25629063)

    I wonder how long before this technology is affordable?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Not when you account for how many Monster cables you'd need
    • by xTantrum (919048)

      But more exotic uses might see nanotube sheets stitched into clothing to create "singing and speaking jackets", Fan's team thinks.

      only in china would this seem more exotic, like i don't already have enough noise pollution in the city and dumbass individuals on their cellphones yapping away. Now i need to have dumbass num 2 booming the latest britney pop crap from his jacket.

      • But the thought of someone's clothes Rick Rolling them brings an evil grin to my face.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by glittalogik (837604)

          Ooooh never gonna zip you up
          Never gonna tie you down
          Never gonna twist you round and half-Windsor you
          Never gonna make you crease
          Never gonna say drip-dry
          Never gonna catch in your fly and hurt you!

    • It seems to me it will start out at a high price for limited exposure advertising whatnot--maybe not as billboards, but certainly we'll be seeing a lot fewer sandwich board guys and more stationary stationery yelling at us to buy company x's product
  • So now we will elevate our American kitsch [wikipedia.org] from Billy the singing Fish to Wanda the singing Fishnets.
  • Just wait until some obnoxious advertisers (car dealerships) get a hold of this tech...
  • This is going to revolutionise the telescreen. They can be made in china, then installed all over America, the UK and China.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @01:41PM (#25629261) Journal
    This is awesome! The problem with conventional speakers is the have huge difficulty dealing with subtle differences in volume. This means the tone color of recorded sound is never as interesting as real sound. It also gives problems when recording orchestras that get loud and soft. Check Beethoven's ninth symphony [youtube.com] for an example, it starts of as soft, like a single instrument tuning, the grows into a deafening roar, whereas the contrast is not nearly as emotional and exciting on a speaker, meaning we miss out if we can't afford our own pocket-orchestra.

    In addition, if you click on that link, you will hear violins. However, those violins will not sound like real violins. There is a whole spectrum of musical interest that must be flattened out to get this in a speaker.

    Now, however, carbon nanotubes might be the key to unlocking giant sound in your living room. Exciting times!

    Wow, I haven't been this excited about new technology since I saw a lazerdisk. And that was just because it was big and shiny.
    • by pz (113803) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @02:40PM (#25630363) Journal

      Sigh. It's great that you're excited and all, but just because there's a new technology for turning electrical input into mechanical work doesn't mean it is an advance in speakers. For example, piezoelectrics were touted as the be-all-end-all for speaker design when they came out. But, it turns out, they are rather bad at being designed into speakers, and even then, they aren't that accurate (although there are certainly exceptions).

      The fundamental problem in speaker design is the inescapable mismatch of mechanical impedance between the relatively solid (ie, low mechanical impedance) speaker and the relatively non-solid (ie, high mechanical impedance) air. Using horn loading helps this a lot (the best speakers I've ever hear were horn loaded) as this serves as a mechanical transformer between the speaker and the room air. But what helps more than anything else for a given amount of engineering effort and cost is doing all of the bandpass filtering well before the final amplification stage and having exactly one acoustic driver per amplifier output stage. (If you don't already understand the reasons for this, just ask, I'd love to tell you about them!)

      Now, will a curtain of this nanotube stuff work as a speaker? Sounds probable. Will it work well? I doubt it, since to accurately reproduce sound, the actuating mechanism (ie, the cone in a conventional speaker) needs to be as rigid as possible so that the acoustic wave it produces accurately corresponds to the electrical signal delivered to it. Internal distortions in the actuating surface (waves on the cone of a conventional speaker, or on the surface of this nanotube stuff) distorts the output. The larger the actuating surface, the more important its rigidity (read: it needs an extremely low internal mechanical impedance).

      The ideal sound source for reproduction is a physical point, not a sheet. The reason speakers have physical extent, rather than being points, is the coupling issue touched upon above: they need to have extent that is comparable to the wavelength they are trying to reproduce in order to have sufficient coupling to the atmosphere -- unless an acoustic coupling mechanism is used, like a horn.

      • by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @03:02PM (#25630713) Journal
        That was an extremely interesting post, but these carbon-nanotube speakers are not vibrating at all! Read the article, they put a laser vibrometer on the thing, and didn't detect a single movement. Now, you have to admit that's pretty great. They think it is happening because of rapid oscillation of temperature, which is what happens with a thermophone. [answers.com] Which is an obscure little thing I had never heard of. They unfortunately don't mention anything about sound quality, but it at least matches youtube's! The idea of carbon nano-tube speakers is something I had not considered, but is definitely cool. I was actually, believe it or not, daydreaming about better headphone speakers last night. Not that I actually have any clue how to do it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ceoyoyo (59147)

        While it doesn't necessarily mean it will make a good speaker (the sound on the video sounded pretty bad, but that could be because of the music chosen, the recording, or the video player), but according to the article the mechanism of sound production is not mechanical. Most of your points are quite true when you're actually vibrating a solid to produce the sound, but don't apply otherwise.

      • Quite so,

        With you 100% on the active xover thing.

        In horn loaded systems, an actice xover, combined with a design that keeps the drivers in their pistonic motion range is excellent.

        Many years ago I had the pleasure of using Martin audio horn loaded system and it was stunning. The spread was excellent. you could het he same tonal balnce in most of a room.

        Just bi-amping a 2 way system brings ahuge improvement!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 4D6963 (933028)
      Huh... aren't you basically just complaining about a lack of dynamic range which you can blame on the fact that you don't actually play CDs at 110 dB as in concerts? Excuse my ignorance, I'm not an audiophile, just a software engineer specialised in sound processing.
      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        Not to mention YouTube isn't exactly the paragon of high fidelity audio (or video). Plus most recordings take into account that you're unlikely to want a full orchestra playing in your living room, so they compress the loudness range so you can still hear everything and your neighbors don't have you arrested.

        • by 4D6963 (933028)
          I didn't even pay attention to that detail. YouTube has the worst sound ever, i.e. an awful automatic gain, plus bad compression.
      • Nope. It is not a matter of volume, I can easily destroy my hearing with headphone speakers. I was actually complaining about the lack of dynamic sensitivity.

        If you pay attention, a lot of dynamic subtlety is lost in recording. Listen to the fourth movement of Beethoven's ninth, and listen to how the bass solo is almost completely impossible to hear, unless the volume is turned up. If it were live, you would be able to hear it still, although softly. And you would be able to hear the expression as th
        • by 4D6963 (933028)

          I was actually complaining about the lack of dynamic sensitivity.

          What on Earth is 'dynamic sensitivity'? Sounds like a BS term to me.

          If you pay attention, a lot of dynamic subtlety is lost in recording.

          Again, a BS term. What you seem to be talking about regarding the bass solo is a poor mastering, i.e. a poor equalisation or a poor capture of the bass solo to begin with. Anything else you complain about can be blamed on a poor mastering. It has nothing to do with speakers, unless you have shitty ones.

          • What you seem to be talking about regarding the bass solo is a poor mastering

            I know what I'm talking about. I am not talking about a single bass solo, I am talking about more than 20 years of experience listening, experiencing, and playing classical music. I am talking from experience with hundreds of different speakers, mikes, and amplifiers, in and out of recording studios. I am not talking about just myself, I am talking about the shared experience of many technicians in the field.

            Now look, I gave you an experiment you can use to begin to develop your own sound awareness, an

            • by 4D6963 (933028)

              Like I said I'm a software engineer. Only phenomenons that can be described mathematically interest me, I'll dismiss anything else as psychoperceptive bullshit. You can swear you can hear what you're talking about as hard as other audiophiles swear that putting an audio CD in the freezer gives the music a softer sound or that they can hear the difference with DVD audios, that's not going to convince me.

              But if you can't explain what you're talking about any better and have to resort to boasting your credenti

              • Like I said I'm a software engineer. Only phenomenons that can be described mathematically interest me, I'll dismiss anything else as psychoperceptive bullshit.

                Do you believe in love? Have you heard of Godel? [wikipedia.org] There are things that are true that can't be proven, and things that don't necessarily fit in a mathematical format.

                You can swear you can hear what you're talking about as hard as other audiophiles swear that putting an audio CD in the freezer gives the music a softer sound or that they can hear the difference with DVD audios, that's not going to convince me.

                You don't have to take my word for it, you can hear it for yourself. Try it.

                The thing you said about "conventional speakers [having] huge difficulty dealing with subtle differences in volume" is bs

                What makes one instrument sound different than another? Why does a clarinet sound different than a coronet, even when playing the same note? It is because they play the overtones of the pitch come at different intensities in different instruments. Sure, if a coronet

                • by 4D6963 (933028)

                  Like I said, psychoperceptive bullshit. "Listening to it" is not an answer, because you can hear whatever you want. That's why there's a difference between blind tests and what people claim for their own observations. And there's nothing about sound that isn't mathematical, invoking GÃdel is completely out of place.

                  What makes one instrument sound different than another?

                  Very generally and basically, harmonics, envelope, or when there is noise then frequency profile (or "colour") of the noise. Pretendi

                  • Like I said, psychoperceptive bullshit. "Listening to it" is not an answer, because you can hear whatever you want.

                    Any true scientist is not afraid of an experiment. Suit yourself.

                    • by 4D6963 (933028)
                      Wow, you really don't get it do you. Non-blind tests (i.e. yourself listening and looking for what you want) are worthless. Besides even if you did a real blind test it would be worthless, because it would prove that what you're talking about is an inherent limitations to speakers. I'm sure that you hear what you say you hear, the problem is that you can't explain it, and resort to blaming it on the nature of speakers, which is baseless and not even an explanation.
                    • You are right, there are many places in the recording and reproduction process where things can go wrong. If you tell me the microphone causes problems, I will believe you, and agree with you. If you tell me the digital audio converter is causing problems, I will believe you. I personally cannot distinguish between 16 and 24 bit audio, so I suspect that the file formats we use are not causing problems (although a poorly encoded mp3 can be hell; listen for a crisp, clear cymbal....they quickly become mudd
                    • Oh, and incidentally, there is always the possibility that somewhere there is some super-awesome speaker that I haven't heard of, that totally rocks your socks. If that is the case, I humbly apologize and if you happen to know of it, would love to know which one it is.
                    • by 4D6963 (933028)

                      That is all very true! And yes, unfortunately in the real world speakers are hardly ever calibrated (that is their frequency response is compensated for so that it's flat) and even if they were their environment plays a big part, as well as where the listener is in that environment.

                      So basically it's not so much the speaker itself the problem, but calibrating it (and you'll have a hard time to find any automated process to do it) and using the calibration data. I looked into it a couple of years ago and impl

                    • Yeah, I've been thinking that really the best chance at good sound quality is headphones.....I've heard these are really good, [amazon.com] but I haven't gone around trying every earphone available. Still, if this technology makes good sound cheaper, available for everyone, then that will make me happy. What is the point of recording great sound if most people can't even hear it?
    • by Mprx (82435)

      Thin film speakers already exist, although the film is held between rigid electrodes:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrostatic_speaker [wikipedia.org]

      The low mass is an advantage for accurate sound reproduction, but these speakers are impractical in most cases. I expect the nanotube speaker will have similar characteristics.

    • by rcw-home (122017)

      The problem with conventional speakers

      You misspelled "dynamic range compression" [wikipedia.org]. The CD format has >90dB of dynamic range - more than your ear can hear in most environments. And if everyone was listening to CDs in their own private listening room, and didn't knee-jerk judge louder music to be better than quieter music, then that's how music might still get produced today. But they're not - music is listened to by people like your coworker, trying to play it just loud enough so they can hear the song in

      • No, you are wrong. I may have not written clearly enough, though.

        There is a whole community of people, who tend to listen to classical music, that is EXTREMELY interested in precise musical reproduction. They know what an orchestra sounds like, and they know a CD doesn't reproduce it very well. They will get annoyed if the sound is bumped up just to sound louder.

        Recorded violins just don't sound like real violins. There are a number of reasons for this, but I will give you the same experiment I gave
        • by rcw-home (122017)

          Recorded violins just don't sound like real violins.

          That's a waveform problem, not a "subtle differences in volume" problem. Address the individual links in the chain until the quality problem is solved. It will probably be expensive.

          And yes, of course I've attended live classical music.

          • Good, glad to see you know what I'm talking about. The thing is, every wave is just a series of different pressure levels, or volume levels. To see what I mean, try experimenting inserting values into to /dev/audio. You probably already know, though.

            And yes, the speaker is just one link in the chain, but a very important one, and honestly, I am quite excited about the prospect of better speakers. If this works out, it will be, if you allow me the colloquial expression, awesome!
            • by mikiN (75494)

              $ cat vmlinux > /dev/dsp

              and hear what Linux really sounds like :-)

              (You probably know that /dev/audio by default puts audio through a really ugly mu-law decompressor that makes anything sound horrible, even proper Sun .au files.)

              Audio debugging is a fine art and can be quite a rewarding experience (if your musical taste permits), in paricular for loop optimization, distinguishing freezes from loops and such.

              • by mikiN (75494)

                *Audio debugging: Sending specially crafted debug messages from your software into /dev/dsp. Sometimes more useful than wading through tons of debug messages, in particular when dealing with a large number of iterations or timing constraints.
                *Alternative: video debugging: Sending debug output directly to the framebuffer or certain video registers.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by blincoln (592401)

          There is a whole community of people, who tend to listen to classical music, that is EXTREMELY interested in precise musical reproduction. They know what an orchestra sounds like, and they know a CD doesn't reproduce it very well. They will get annoyed if the sound is bumped up just to sound louder.

          The problem with most of that type of person is that they refuse to participate in and/or accept the results of double-blind tests to see if they are perceiving something that's actually different or it's a psych

          • The problem with most of that type of person is that they refuse to participate in and/or accept the results of double-blind tests to see if they are perceiving something that's actually different or it's a psychological effect.

            Give me a break, who are you even talking about? I'm not talking about mythical 'audiophiles' who are 'experts' and hear things no one else can hear, I'm talking about real differences in sound, that anyone who cares about can hear. If you want to hear it, I gave you an experiment you can do yourself to develop that ability. I am not imagining this.

            I have wondered the same thing about audio encoding, and I think the reason is because anyone who cares uses 24 bit encoding, and really 16 bit encoding is

            • by blincoln (592401)

              and really 16 bit encoding is nearly enough to represent the entire capability of any real-life speaker currently.

              I think you are thinking of the Nyquist frequency, which is related to the sample rate and not the bit depth. Either way, you're right that 16-bit, 44KHz audio theoretically can represent anything that most speakers can reproduce, but I'm talking about something else.

              The quality of the speaker doesn't have a whole lot to do with the quantization of the data encoding. Quieter audio (when recorded

              • An extreme example would be a waveform recorded at such a low volume that the difference between the peak and trough is only one bit. When that digital data is converted back to analogue, the DAC is going to more or less smooth it out into a sine wave no matter what the original shape was.

                Exactly. You said it much better than I have in this thread. But, the unfortunate thing is, even if the audio at that level weren't smoothed out to a sine wave by the DAC, the speaker would do the same thing at the physical level.

          • by MadKeithV (102058)

            This means that in the case of digital audio, half of the bits in each sample are allocated to the top decibel of loudness

            Each additional bit adds 6.02dB of dynamic range (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signal-to-noise_ratio#Fixed_point).
            That's 6dB for one bit, not 1dB for half of the bits.

            • by blincoln (592401)

              Sorry, maybe I worded my post badly - maybe I shouldn't have used the decibel unit? Or maybe the equations on Wikipedia give an "average" value (like the ones that tell you how much data can be stored in half a bit or whatever?).

              There's a good explanation of the imaging equivalent of what I meant here: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/expose-right.shtml [luminous-landscape.com]

              • by MadKeithV (102058)
                What's important is how the sampling is done - in the case of PCM audio this is a linear sampling of the voltage of the input signal.
                The "decibels" are relative to "full scale" i.e. maximum voltage. The actual power levels are linear. The "last bit" is a difference of 6dBFS with the "next bit".
                I suspect that the sampling for imaging is rather different, and also as far as I know the human visual range is larger than can be captured with any one optical system. I am very wary of comparing the two unless
    • by Yoozer (1055188)

      Now, however, carbon nanotubes might be the key to unlocking giant sound in your living room. Exciting times!

      But that's not what I want. I want the sound piped directly into my brain, bypassing my ears - my brain goes up to 20khz without a problem, my ears don't anymore. Convolution reverb would allow you to add any "room" or ambience afterwards, plus you wouldn't be distracted by anything while listening to music - the perfect monitoring system.

  • Dick Tracey's TV/Phone watch is just around the corner at your nearest ________ store.

    Imagine how this will help the medical community with diagnosis's. Send in the nanotube clowns and listen, watch, use sound to pound away at those nasty kidney and gall stones, etc.
  • As if ringtones weren't annoying enough. Welcome to hell.

  • by MadCow42 (243108) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @02:15PM (#25629875) Homepage

    To me it seems a natural fit to help "ruggedize" consumer electronics. One of the hardest things to seal on your phone is the speaker (and mic... which this probably wouldn't address in itself).

    No more need for a speaker - just put the candybar up to your ear.

  • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Tuesday November 04, 2008 @02:23PM (#25630035) Homepage

    No matter what I try, certain articles are collapsed in the main-page view - including this one in Technology. Can someone tell me how to ensure that ALL articles are expanded?

    • by shot151 (1388155)
      I have this issue as well...
    • by ZERO1ZERO (948669)
      Slashdot front page has loads of display problems. The days of the couple mm left column overlap seem like the good times in comparison.
    • by pavon (30274)

      Yes. Click on Help&Preferences on the top tool bar. First go to Index/General and uncheck "Use Beta Index", if it is checked and click save. Then go to Index/Sections and select which sections you would like to see on the index - the far right option is to always display the full summary.

      The beta index has some nice features like voting, but currently ignores your settings when deciding which stories to collapse.

  • Should be good for playing music on bicycles!

    Stephan

  • "Chinese researchers have realised that a sheet of nanotubes behaves like a speaker when you send an audio current through it. ...

    None of that boring old electrical current for them.

  • One step closer to a nigh-untraceable Annoy-a-tron [thinkgeek.com]

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