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Using Tables as Speakers 313

James writes "At CeBIT, Olympia has been showing off its Soundbug - a gadget that can turn almost any flat surface into a soundboard. It's only gonna cost £29.99 (around $45, i guess), but it sounds like there's some seriously cool science behind it."
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Using Tables as Speakers

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  • floors? (Score:2, Funny)

    by astrodawg ( 54943 )
    I have hardwood floors in my house. I imagine my neighbor won't be very pleased if it works with my floor.
    • Re:floors? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by madfgurtbn ( 321041 )
      See They sell a large version of something similar where you attach the coil to the back side of drywall, or under your floor, turning your wall or floor into a speaker. It sounds pretty good, and its fun to have people try to find the speakers in your house. I know a guy who has 40 of them all over his home.
      • Re:floors? (Score:3, Interesting)

        I read several pieces on this technology, but I'm not exactly sure about the logisitics of these types of devices. Sure, we all know that we vibrate surfaces in order to produce sounds waves. But, these vibrations seem to be pretty disastrous to things that don't want to vibrate (i.e. Your House). So, if you hooked one of these things up behind your drywall it would seem as if any amount of use would cause the wall to shake, drywall screws to become loose, plaster over the drywall to crack, base molding to come loose, and paint to chip/crack. How do they aim to create a vibration without causing all sorts of damage? Well, if we moved it to a hardwood floor (or even better, the composite material wood floors that aren't even nailed into the floor, rather they float as an entire surface together), we could end up with better results. The wood is most likely much better able to handle the vibrations and transfer them well too. But, what happens if you walk across the floor? It would seem that the power of this type of equipment wouldn't be large enough that it could vibrate an additional 150 - 200 lb person. So, as you would walk across floors, you would be creating deadspots all over the place and interfering with the workings of the 'speakers'.

        Has anyone seen any articles with an in-depth analysis of how this equipment might work. Despite the poster's comment that "it sounds like there's some seriously cool science behind it." the article was very slim on any technical details.
        • I can't really answer the question, but I have played with the concept. I took a 5 inch speaker, cut away most of the cone and screwed a thin, springy piece of steel across the basket. From there a bolt goes down to the dust cap, which is then covered in epoxy, so the voice coil, dustcap, bolt and steel leaf are a rigid unit. mass is added to the strap to adjust the resonant frequency. The entire thing can be attached to walls or tables or whatever, turning the entire surface into a speaker with really nasty resonant peaks at harmonics of the drivers resonant freq.

          Regardless of the sound quality of this particular setup, a 4x8 piece of sheetrock actually makes a fair speaker at resonable volumes, its fine for watching TV or casual radio listening. I used it in my workshop for several months just for the novalty. If you desire very high SPL though, more standard technology would probably be a better investment.
  • Woah, can I turn my chest into a speaker?

    Imagine walking down the street, blasting music from your belly :)
    • Re:body parts? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kryptkpr ( 180196 )
      Did you read the article?

      It says the thing puts out 400lb of pressure.... you want that on your chest? Enjoy!
      • Re:body parts? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by gimpboy ( 34912 )
        yeah the article knows the difference between force (lbf) and pressure (lbf/area). i dont think it exerts 400 lbs of force on the flat object, but rather on the coil inside. i would imagine that a 400 lb force applied to a window wouldnt be too good for the glass.

        since this is one of the mediums they are suggesting you use it with, i dont think it will do too much damage will be placed apon to the original poster if he plans on using his chest. i think one requirement is that the surface be rigid so that it can transmit the sound. i doubt most of our chests are rigid.
  • I wonder if it can bring the house down it attached to a wall with rock music?
  • I wonder what would happen if I shaved my head and stuck this thing on my skull?
  • The surfaces of my windows do the same thing when certain idiots drive by.
  • it's kinda cute.. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
  • by SanLouBlues ( 245548 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:48AM (#3162293) Journal
    I have a similar device. It's a guitar. Just touch the headstock to anything and play. Or cut the big magnet in a speaker out of the cone, and tape it to a table. The real test will be the fidelity of the sound. Although the thought of stereo from two connectors on a single surface sounds acceptably super-cool.
  • For more information (Score:3, Informative)

    by Wind_Walker ( 83965 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:48AM (#3162294) Homepage Journal
    You should see this [] Slashdot article from nearly a year ago. It describes Korean scientists doing this exact same thing, but as a "proof-of-concept" type of thing.

    Apparently, some things that Slashbots debunk as vaporware are made practical :-)

  • But if your desk is the speaker, not only would you not get stereo sound, but you would not be able to use the desk, or it would probably ruin the sound. Think about it, how would the music sound with a monitor, a couple books, and some food sitting on the desk. Using the windows or some other large furniture in the room would be better, but again, you would need at least two for stereo sound, and they would probably need to be roughly the same size and density for the sounds to match.
    • Well, obviously damping the vibrations (with books etc) would decrease the volume, but it's not true that you wouldn't be able to achieve stereo sound with a single vibrating body. Different parts of your desk don't have to vibrate in phase or at the same frequency unless it is infinitely stiff, which it isn't.
    • Not only that, but what would the long term effect be on the material being used to generate the sound? I don't think it could be that good. What would happen if someone hooked this up and cranked the base? Some stuff vibrates with normal speaker when the base is cranked. I probably won't by this.

      On the lighter side, imagine hooking it up to a wall in your apartment or house, or get 3 y-cables and some cords and hook it up to all four walls. The biggest speakers in the world!
  • Conference Calls? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dthable ( 163749 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:49AM (#3162300) Journal
    So the article talks about using the technology to improve the conference phone that so many businesses have placed. But if everyone is seated and taking notes, won't their contact with the table stop the vibrations? Same with the desk. If I have a lot of crap on it, does the soundbug quality reduce because the desk can't vibrate?
  • been around (Score:2, Informative)

    by AssFace ( 118098 )
    I can recall Sharper Image's catalog having these for whole walls in the past. If I recall a write up in a sound magazine, the quality is surprisingly good, but obviously not like audiophile level.
  • Play nice (Score:5, Funny)

    by bachelor3 ( 68410 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:49AM (#3162305)
    The sound quality achieved by Soundbug is impressive, especially when the device is attached to a thick piece of a dense material.

    Hey, now I can say something good about my roommate!
    • The sound quality achieved by Soundbug is impressive, especially when the device is attached to a thick piece of a dense material.

      Hey, now I can say something good about my roommate!

      And even if he doesn't look good, smell good, or think well, then at least you can make him SOUND good by attaching the bug to his skull! :-)

      • by darkonc ( 47285 )
        And even if he doesn't look good, smell good, or think well, then at least you can make him SOUND good by attaching the bug to his skull! :-)

        The hard part would be shaving him clean enough to make the suction cups stick.

  • Now the guys with the bass systems in their vehicles will have sound eminating from their windows as well.
  • Wireless? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Havokmon ( 89874 ) <> on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:51AM (#3162320) Homepage Journal
    All they need is a wireless version, and my wife can move the furniture all she wants.
    • by sharkey ( 16670 ) wife can move the furniture all she wants

      Your wife moves the furniture? You lucky bastard! My wife makes me move ours.
      • Your wife moves the furniture? You lucky bastard! My wife makes me move ours.

        Yeah, you *THINK* it's lucky until you come home and she says,
        "Honey, I moved the furntiure today. You'll need to hook up the TV and the stereo."

        "Oh, I see you've moved them to an area where there are no power outlets, and no cable connection. No Problem. *sigh*"

        When we move, people are going to wonder why there's a cable jack on every wall.

  • All that I wonder about this(other than when can I get one) is how long till some genius in a Marketing department somewhere turns an entire building into a non-stop looping jingle? Just think, Times Square (which is already an advertising mecca) but now with J-Lo/ Kylie/ Britney playing in the background 24 hours a Day!
  • by Natanleod ( 546583 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:51AM (#3162326)
    Next thing we know is that Vogons will announce us, turning every table into a a speaker, that our planet is to be destroyed to make way for an hyperspace bypass...
  • I wonder what would happen if I attached the device to this large piece of sheet metal the local orchestra uses, placed its input microphone in front of the sheet and give the sheet a hefty whack... Or even dumped the microphone and captured the vibrations directly for that matter.

    I suspect "loud" would be a good place to start.

  • More info (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mr Windows ( 91218 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:52AM (#3162332)
    Soundbug is made by Newlands Scientific [], a company based in Hull (UK), and comes in a variety of colours, some of which (pink and purple) are pretty disgusting, some of which (grey and blue) aren't...

    Their website has plenty more glossy pictures, and a bit more info about "smart materials", which are used to make the wall/glass/whatever vibrate. They seem to be similar to piezo-electric materials, though better (at least, that's what the company would have you believe).

    • Re:More info (Score:2, Interesting)

      by linzeal ( 197905 )
      I want to make one big enough for political demonstrations. It would be kind of cool to use an entire building as a loud speaker to get your point across.
      • Heh... yeah, but who has the bigger buildings? You or Corporate America? Don't bring a knife to a gunfight. ;)

      • Re:More info (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jpmkm ( 160526 )
        Look up Tesla oscillators. Tesla did some stuff in Manhattan that oscillated at Earth's natural resonant frequency that made the earth shake for blocks. Same basic principle - vibrate stuff.
  • RIAA (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:53AM (#3162340)
    I wonder if now the RIAA will insist that all tables be sold with software to prevent people from using them to play copyrighted materials.


  • Sure beats headphones.
  • by Erich ( 151 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:54AM (#3162349) Homepage Journal
    This has great potential in the realm of practical jokes.

    Imagine sucking this to the underside of someone's desk way back in the knee well. Then attach it to a radio and a timer device that will randomly turn on the radio for a few seconds every few hours.

    Imagine attaching this to the door of the person who was making loud, annoying noises with a POTAS whilst you were trying to sleep, and waking them up when you have to go to your 8:00 class!

    The possibilities for this device are truely limitless.

  • by deepstephen ( 149398 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:56AM (#3162355)
    The Soundbug is very very cool indeed. My flatmate is doing some work for Newlands Scientific (the people who developed this stuff) and I've seen the Soundbug in action. I want one!

    Even better, IMHO, is the 'conference call' product they alluded to in the article. I think they're referring to the Soundbubble, which will create a 'bubble' within which you can *only* hear the sound source you want (e.g. the phone call). If you're outside the bubble, you won't be able to hear the phone conversation.

    It's absolutely amazing, and the possibilities are endless. Imagine being able to walk into a crowded, noisy bar and be able to have a whispered conversation with the person standing next to you. Neither of you would be able to hear the rest of the bar, and the rest of the bar would be unable to hear you.

    It really is like something out of a sci-fi novel. Those of you who have read any Iain M Banks novels will know this works much the same way as his sound fields.
  • Official Site (Score:3, Informative)

    by theCURE ( 551589 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:57AM (#3162362) Homepage
    Check out this [] link for the official site of the product. Includes pictures.
  • Flat panel speakers (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fruey ( 563914 )
    I have a set of Wharfedale flat panel speakers, which use similar technology I suppose. The sound quality is decidedly "thin" and the old magnet driven cones beat it hands down.

    I would love to see a more technical analysis of the soundbug and I looked around.

    The official site is here [], and has a nice photo.

    A german article is here []

    However, I did not find a nice frequency response graph based on some standard material like a pane of glass one metre square, or MY office desk ;-) for example.

    In all, it looks reasonably cool, and I can see applications everywhere. Now, when am I going to be able to get one in Morocco??

    • by Zathrus ( 232140 )
      No, flat panel speakers aren't really similar to this. Flat panel speakers vibrate a thin film layer to create the sound. One of the advantages of this is that you don't create a point source like you do with tweeters, instead you create an eliptical wave. You have to be rather careful about interference though, since the sound eminates from both the front and the back of the panel. This does help with things like off-axis response, and doesn't hurt imaging if done right.

      If you find the speakers in question "thin" sounding, then it's because they're not very good, or your setup isn't very good. Good flat panels do have a different tone than a box speaker, but they are generally accepted as being just as good as long as you have a top notch subwoofer to cover the bass.
  • Terfenol? (Score:3, Informative)

    by glh ( 14273 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:59AM (#3162374) Homepage Journal
    >>The Soundbug transmits the sound to the flat
    >>surface by way of a small piece of Terfenol,
    >>which is a mixture of rare earth metals and
    >>iron. This substance is placed within an
    >>aluminium case, around which is wrapped a coil.

    If they make a ton of these, what's that going to mean for our supply of Terfenol? I'm not an environmentalist or anything, but I'm sure people won't be happy.

    Here [] is a cool article and picture on Terfenol. Looks like its main purpose is for damping and energy absorption. Kind of looks like gold!

  • by IainHere ( 536270 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @10:59AM (#3162375)
    DERA the British "defence" research agency developed a much better version [] years ago (technologically, if not financially), where the panel itself was made to vibrate using electronic impulses. More info here [].

    Interestingly, they were looking for ways to reduce background noise (using anti-noise) when they stumbled across it. They've been available commercially for years.
  • by deepstephen ( 149398 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @11:01AM (#3162382)
    The official Soundbug site is here []. You can enter yourself into a prize draw to win one...
  • Invisible Stereo (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mframe ( 174780 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @11:03AM (#3162395)

    The first thing I thought of when I saw this were some units from a company called Invisible Stereo. []

    Same deal, just put them behind your drywall, and your entire wall turns into a speaker. Different thicknesses, different frequency responses.

    I never heard them in person, but they always intruiged me. Anybody ever use/hear these?

  • I can see this applied to places like theaters, if you could get walls, floors and ceiling to vibrate.

    This would really get the subsonics going.

    The ultimate would of course be stadiums, for rock concerts and other public events. I can seen the politicians now, using sound to held inspire fear or some other emotion depending on the vibrations being put into the mix.

    "I don't know, but I felt sort of tingly when I saw him/her live. TV just doesn't communicate his/her charisma"

    Of course, the stress testing of the building designs would have to be taken to a whole new level, to handle the extra energy.

  • by MrIcee ( 550834 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @11:06AM (#3162403) Homepage
    Couple comments about this technology. First, devices that did this are fairly old. I remember about 20 or 30 years ago a wall system was announced (I forget by whom) that would turn your entire wall into a speaker. I also remember that school buses had a similar system for announcing for awhile - where a transducer turned the roof of the bus into a speaker system.

    But that aside... this reminds me also of something I saw the Musician Laurie Anderson do... I visited her traveling museum (stocked full of VERY COOL things she had invented). One of her inventions was a large wood dinner table. At the point where each person sat was two small indentations in the table - exactly where you would rest your elbows with your hands on your face (as so many of us do while eating).

    The cool thing was she had transducers in the holes... you could hear absolutly nothing until you put your elbows in the holes and leaned your head on your hands... then instantly you heard MUSIC in your ears! This was accomplished by bone induction (e.g., the music traveling through your elbow and into your arm bone and out your hand into your head). The quality was astonishing!

    The other neat thing was it was fully stereo (unless you were a one-armed-man) and each person at the table got a totally different soundtrack.

    • As an audiologist I have to be pedantic and note that bone conducted sound does not give you the same cues for locating the sound (i.e. no head shadow). So saying you can hear it in steroe is a little misleading. While you can add additional streams of sound, you will loose lots of timing and amplitude cues (no head shadow, and bone conducts sound faster than air) you use to locate where a sound is coming from . The "speaker" however sounds pretty neat, and a $40 bone oscillator is even cooler (typically in the $100's). I wonder if the frequency response goes up to the ultrasonic range. If you really want to hear some weird stuff, you can actually hear frequecies by bone conduction that your cannot hear by air conduction (over 24 kHz). (Science [] and Lancet []) There is a company [] in Tucson doing some cool stuff with this to make hearing aids and tinnitus maskers.
    • Another Anderson, Pamela Anderson, is also noted for their work relating to bone induction...

  • Can anyone think of an application where the soundbug would be preferential over standard or wireless speakers? I don't think cost is really an issue since you can pick up cheap speakers for under $10 or even used ones for less than that. The article mentions teleconferencing but people who are partaking in activities such as teleconferencing tend to have deep enough pockets to splurge for a decent sound system.
    • Have a look at their video adverts. They're targeting children. This will be a great toy for kids to plug in to their walkman/discman/mp3 player, and the price is right for their market.
  • They've also got some other applications for it listed here [].
  • Sound travels in waves. So, I wonder how other stuff on the desk can affect the sound coming from it. I mean, my desk has 2 monitors, a laptop, books, beer bottles, papers. To use this, do I have to clear all that stuff off?
  • by Tazzy531 ( 456079 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @11:29AM (#3162493) Homepage
    I'm sure the CIA has thought of this, but if you can transmit sound through stuff like desks, why can't you also build a device that will listen to the vibrations and record sound from the room. It would be the ultimate listening device (aka bug).
    • Well, that is allready existing technology.

      You use a laser beam to measure vibrations on a window. Window's because they vibrate more easily than whole walls.

      Ofcourse this technology is not foolproof, as it is highly sensitive to "structural" background noises like heating systems etc.
    • actually the CIA wouldnt have thought of this. They would have had the NSA think about it for them. THIS kind of thing is the NSA's purpose. and running all of the US spy sattelites
  • A few years ago, I saw a brief tech news article about how a japanese company had made a tv screen that hung on your wall like a painting, and the screen itself was the speaker. I thought it was cool, but when I mentioned it to people later they thought I was on crack. And I didn't have the link anymore.
    Now I have proof that such a thing can exist! Proof I say! Proof!
    Um, does anyone have a link to an article proving the existence of the little people that steal socks from the dryer too? Thanks.
  • There's a video up in different formats over for you all to download... This thing looks amazing! []
  • remember kiddies, if it doesnt create the low frequency and large excursion that your beloved 8-32 inch speaker cone does then you are going to get very minimal bass response. in otherwords. It's a great tweeter and midrange but it will plain suck at bass.

  • From the article:

    The device can be stuck to a car windscreen, meaning that drivers can have a hands-free conversation without having to wear a headset

    Oh boy! And so can anyone else nearby, with their windows rolled down, etc. Greaaaat. Hope you weren't having an intimate conversation, or talking trade secrets!

    Thankfully a lot of places have noise ordinances now that could be used against morons placing these things and annoying everyone nearby.

    Definitely useful, assuming the sound quality is even mediocre. But I doubt that it's going to replace decent speaker setups anytime soon.
  • Because 5.5 years ago when I was a freshman at Clemson University I saw the same thing being done in the ceramics engineering department. All the freshman engineers had to tour the different departments to help them decide what path to take, and when I was on the Ceramics tour the guide showed us a science fair type piece of cardboard that had a small ceramic disc on the back of it. The disc had two little wires going to a small fm radio and when he turned the radio on I thought I was listening to one of those WaveRadio thingies. It blew me away and the first thing I thought of was I wish they could put those in cars so when the football players turned their bass up too high, if they had a disc on the trunk, at least it would rattle to the music!

    Seriously though, I wonder what the Engineering college [] over at Clemson would have to say about this.
  • by gilroy ( 155262 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @11:46AM (#3162574) Homepage Journal
    I know of three important technological dualisms:
    • All electric motors are also electric generators, and all electric generators are electric motors;
    • All transmitters are receivers, and all receivers are transmitters;
    • All microphones are loudspeakers, and all loudspeakers are microphones

    So, it's probably just my usual paranoid suspicions, but how easily could one of these things -- or, more likely, a more advanced, optimised version -- be turned into a bug that "listens" to the vibrations put on a large flat surface by, say, casual conversation?
    • So, it's probably just my usual paranoid suspicions, but how easily could one of these things -- or, more likely, a more advanced, optimised version -- be turned into a bug that "listens" to the vibrations put on a large flat surface by, say, casual conversation? One of the stocks in trade of espionage / detective fiction for some time have been laser bugs: point an infrared laser at the windows of a room you want to listen to, and the laser detects vibrations in the windows and system converts the vibrations back into sound. Supposed to actually exist. I've seen them advertized, but couldn't confirm the lack of scam.

      As far as affixing an electronic device to a hidden location in a room (under a table, say) why not just use a conventional bug?

  • Passing electricity through the coil causes the piece of Terfonal to slightly expand, resulting in a force of 400 pounds

    That's GOTTA do some damage if put on the wrong 'flat surface'. Like maybe a picture windows, or someone's forehead :->

    Seriously though, I hope this becomes available in the US when I build my house. I'd LOVE to put these in the walls and make a home theatre without the speakers!

  • by CDWert ( 450988 ) on Thursday March 14, 2002 @12:48PM (#3162862) Homepage
    I have found something out over the years, the least likey scenario an engineer can imagine , I and others will do routinley.

    There is a pressure of 400lbs aexerted by this gadget, it creates frequncy vibrations in a material that make sound, simple enough.

    BUT my desk is partile composite with those idiot lags. No vibrsating the hell out of this 300 piece of junk for a long term is going, very simply to make it fall apart.

    I have seen it before, vibration causing the particle composite to litteraly crumble when subjected to long term vibration. Glue seperates, and screws losen.

    Be real neat righ up until your desk collapses :)

  • I was thinking that could be great for a band. Buy this device, get a piece of plywood, instant cheap stage speaker.
  • Imagine if the near-center sounds in a movie actually emanated from the screen itself. You could place several of these on the back of the screen to enhance the directionality.

    In fact I thought of this with the NXT flat panel speaker technology (got a pair of those from Mission), and it's probably been done already in some form.

  • Tesla did it first (Score:2, Interesting)

    by meta ( 120974 )
    Nikola Tesla was experimenting with this technology--the principle of mechanical resonance--in the 1800's. Margaret Cheney, in her biography, Tesla: Man Out Of Time, relates several stories of his experiments. One was a near disaster, in which he shook nearby buildings--breaking windows and scaring occupants into the streets--before realizing the danger and turning off the tiny electromechanical oscillator he had attached to the iron frame of the building which housed his own laboratory.
  • Now every white Honda Civic with a "Bad Boy" sticker on the back's going to get turned into a mobile broadcasting station by the kind of suede-baseball cap wearing, mouth breathing slopeheads that drive around playing those stupid CDs that are nothing but bass-boosted 808s going THOOM THOOM THOOM THOOM THOOM at 3 a. frigging m. because they seem to think the child you've finally managed to get to sleep really wants to hear the latest Slap Diddy Fooly Fool CD.

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears