Turn any surface into a speaker with MITs new technology

A paper-thin way to hear a favorite tune.

MIT engineers have developed a paper-thin loudspeaker that can be used to transform just about any surface into an impressive audio source. Referred to as a “thin-film loudspeaker”, the new technology produces sound with minimal sound distortion.

Imagine being able to coat your office desk, line the inside of workout room or car, or wallpaper your room with a thin sheet of speakers, creating an immersive audio experience at a moment’s noticewithout the costly investment of a full-scale surround sound system. Luckily, a group of MIT engineers have developed such technology. According to the researchers behind the groundbreaking innovation, the paper-thin loudspeaker uses a “deceptively simple fabrication technique” that only requires “three basic steps,” according to the researchers behind the pioneering innovation. The “thin-film loudspeaker” capacity can be scaled up large enough to line the inside of a vehicle or wallpaper an entire room.

Given the nature of this type of technology, one key opportunity is to provide active noise cancellation. This is achieved by generating sound of the same amplitude but opposite phases. In practice, two sounds essentially cancel one another out. For instance, in noisy environments like inside airplanes, trains, or vehicles, this technology could eliminate outside noises, thus making a completely noise-free flying, driving, or passenger experience. Another use is improving upon immersive viewing entertainment, including providing three-dimensional audio in movie theatres. The possibilities are endless, given how lightweight, thin, and impressive-sounding it is.

Traditional speakers use electric current inputs that pass through a coil of wire, generating a magnetic field. This moves the speaker membrane, thus moving the air above it and creating the sound you hear. This new “thin-film loudspeaker” streamlines the process by using a thin film of a shaped piezoelectric material which moves when voltage is applied over it, and in turn moving the air above and producing sound.

“It feels remarkable to take what looks like a slender sheet of paper, attach two clips to it, plug it into the headphone port of your computer, and start hearing sounds emanating from it,” stated Vladimir Bulovic, Chair in Emerging Technology, leader of ONE Lab, and senior research paper author. Bulovic adds, “it can be used anywhere,” finishing with, “one just needs a smidge of electrical power to run it.” The creative possibilities are endless.

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