Cover your wall with MIT’s new paper-thin speakers to turn your bedroom into a noise-canceling oasis

Cover your wall with MIT’s new paper-thin speakers to turn your bedroom into a noise-canceling oasis

Cover your wall with MIT's new paper-thin speakers to turn your bedroom into a noise-canceling oasis

You might be resigned to wearing a pair of headphones all day to block out noise from loud neighbors or other distractions, but researchers at MIT has developed an ultra-thin speaker which can be applied to almost any surface like wallpaper, turning objects like walls into giant noise canceling speakers.

Tear the speakers out of almost any consumer device that produces sound, and you’ll find essentially the same material: a membrane paired with a coil of wire that produces a magnetic field (or some other mechanism of motion). When electricity is applied, the membrane moves back and forth and pushes air in specific patterns, creating sound waves that reach our ears. It’s a simple formula that has worked well for over 150 years, but requires some power and space to operate. Just look at the tower of massive speakers on either side of the stage at a concert and you’ll see why there’s room for improvement when it comes to speaker technology.

Researchers at MIT’s Organic and Nanostructured Electronics Laboratory have created a new kind of thin-film speaker that’s as thin and flexible as a sheet of paper, but is also capable of delivering clear, high-quality sound. even when stuck to a rigid surface like a wall. This isn’t the first time researchers have created ultra-thin lightweight speakers, but previous attempts have resulted in a film that needs to be self-contained and unhindered to produce sound. When mounted on a rigid surface, passed thin the speakers’ ability to vibrate and move air is greatly reduced, limiting where and how they can be used. But MIT researchers have now developed a new manufacturing process that solves this problem.

Instead of designing a thin-film speaker that requires the entire panel to vibrate, the researchers started with a sheet of lightweight PET plastic that they punched tiny holes using a laser. A layer of thin piezoelectric material called PVDF was then laminated to the underside of the sheet, then the researchers subjected the two layers to a vacuum and 80 degrees Celsius heat, which caused the piezoelectric layer to swell and grow. through the laser cut holes in the top layer. This created a series of tiny domes capable of pulsing and vibrating when an electric current is applied, whether or not the panel is glued to a rigid surface. The researchers also added a few extra layers of durable PET plastic to create a spacer to ensure that the domes can vibrate freely, and to protect them from abrasion damage.

The domes are only “one-sixth the thickness of a human hair” in height and move only half a micron up and down when vibrating. Jthousands are needed to produce audible sounds, but the researchers also found that changing the size of the laser-cut holes, which also changes the size of the domes produced, allows the sound produced by the thin-film panel to be set to be Stronger. ‘Cause the domes have such a minute movement, only 100 milliwatts of electricity were needed to power a single square meter of the material, compared to more than a watt of electricity needed to power a standard speaker to create a comparable sound pressure level.

The applications of thin film speaker material are endless. In addition to being applied to interiors like the walls of an office or even inside an airplane to cancel out unwanted noise, an entire car could be wrapped in a loudspeaker, which would alert pedestrians more easily than a otherwise silent electric vehicle was approaching. Researchers believe the technology could even be used for ultrasound imaging, tracking the movement of people in a given space, or even as a futuristic display technology by covering all those tiny domes with reflective surfaces, similar to how Texas Instrument’s DLP technology. But the one thing researchers can’t predict is when we might actually see this technology come to market.

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