Speakers in the shape of anything from a rubber ducky to an abstract spiral could be easily manufactured, thanks to the technology unveiled at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), which wrapped up last week in Toronto. As the speakers can produce sound across the whole face of the object, the technology could also be used to add sound to toys.
Because the speakers can produce both audible sound and inaudible ultrasound, the objects can be identified and tracked so that they can be integrated into games. According to Disney, tactile feedback could also be possible.
The technology was first explored in the 1930s but never widely adopted. It consists of a thin, conductive diaphragm and an electrode plate, separated by a layer of air.
An audio signal is amplified to high voltage and applied to the electrode. An electrostatic force develops between it and the diaphragm, causing the diaphragm to deform and produce sound.
The speaker has a low bass response but can produce high frequency sounds such as chirping birds and computer-generated blips at up to 60 decibels.
“In five to 10 years, a 3D printer capable of using conductive materials could create the entire piece,” said Yoshio Ishiguro, a Disney Research associate, who developed the method with Ivan Poupyrev.
“What’s more, it can generate sound across the entire face of the speaker,” Ishiguro added. “That makes it possible to not only produce directional, cone-shaped speakers but also omnidirectional speakers in which the entire 3D surface emits sound.”
Watch a video demonstration of the technology: http://youtu.be/zralu3wYUTU