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Focused Audio

Brings Sound To You & Only You

beginning to see products enter the con-
sumer, industrial, and military arenas.
Two companies have developed com-
peting focused audio products. The bet-
ter-known product is HSS (HyperSonic
Sound) from ATC (American Technology
Corporation; and the
mind of Elwood Woody Norris (see our
interview with Woody in last months
issue of CPU on page 103). Converse-
ly, Holosonic Research Labs (www.holo
son has created a product called
the Audio Spotlight sound system. Both
technologies give companies the ability to
focus sound at one individual while near-
by people hear nothing.
Norris has had a hand in inventing
many devices, including playing a major
role in development of the technology
behind sonograms in the 1960s. He
recently invented a personalized helicopter
that Norris says could eventually become
as commonplace as ATVs. In April, Norris
won a $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for
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mproved focus is almost always a good
thing. For one, when you give a project
complete mental focus, it usually means
more success. When your cameras focus is
working well, it gives you top-of-the-line
photos. Additionally, the harnessing of
focused light, laser light, has led to the cre-
ation of several incredible technologies.
Focused Audio
So what about focused audio? Re-
searchers have been working on such a
technology for several years now, and were
Basics Of HSS
To visualize how sound emits from a tradi-
tional speaker, think about how ripples radi-
ate from a pebble tossed into a puddle. Just
as with the pebble, the sound waves move in
every direction away from the traditional
speaker. With focused audio, such as HSS
(HyperSoni c Sound), though, the sound
waves move in a specific direction on a nar-
row beam. Consequently, this lets the per-
son holding an HSS device aim the beam
at a person or object, making it appear as
though the sound is originating from the
place where the beam strikes first, whether
its a wall or a humans ear.
Because the wavelengths of the ultrasonic
sound waves are very small, they can hold
their narrow beam until they strike an object
(in this case, a persons ear). They then de-
grade, letting the person in the path of the
beam hear the sound.
Sources: American Technology Corporation, USA Today
You can send focused
audio by connecting a
common audio device
to an HSS device.
Because this woman is in
the path of the HSS beam,
she can hear the sound as
clearly as if she were
wearing headphones.
As soon as she steps a few feet away from the
beams focus, though, she can no longer hear
the beams sound because the ultrasonic
sounds are no longer striking her ear.
HSS uses a transducer instead of speaker
cones. The device is about the size and
thickness of a large dinner plate. The
transducer for HSS is a 28-micron piezo-
electric PVDF (polyvinylidene fluoride)
film. PVDF film is a specially treated plas-
tic film that produces sound vibration
when exposed to an electrical field. This
sound vibration, also called a flutter,
creates the ultrasonic sound waves.
his inventions, including HSS, which is
highly regarded in the scientific communi-
ty. Popular Science even awarded HSS its
grand prize for inventions in 2002.
Ultimately, Norris was able to succeed
with focused audio where others had
failed. The idea for focused audio has been
around for decades, but other inventors
were unable to create a device that could
be cost effective and practical to use.
Holosonic Research
Joseph Pompei started working in the
audio industry for Bose when he was 16
years old. He created the Audio Spot-
light while working at the MIT Media
Lab. Pompei later founded Holosonic to
commercialize the idea.
Both Pompei and Norris have filed
dozens of patents on their ideas. Both
technologies are built on the same basic
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Make Focused Audio Waves Work
Focused audio devices, such as HSS, generate sound waves in a nar-
row beam, much like laser light. The wavelengths from ultrasonic
sound are usually only a few millimeters, which lets them travel in a
narrow, focused beam.
Inventor Woody Norris says he began considering the idea behind
HSS in the mid-1970s after studying the way color TV works by blending
red, green, and blue light to create the TV picture. He thought that by
blending two types of sound waves, he would be able to create other
kinds of sound. Knowing that ultrasonic sound waves can travel over
longer distances than sound waves at lower pitches, Norris figured out a
way to have two different ultrasonic waves carry information about a
sound. As the waves strike a solid object, such as a persons ear, they
distort by slowing and crashing into each other. This collision causes
them to re-create the original sound in the air around the object. Thats
why you dont hear anything when you step out of the beam of focused
audio; without anything to crash into, the ultrasonic waves continue
traveling without any degradation. Thats also why sound waves
from HSS technology could appear as if theyre coming from what-
ever they hit first, rather than the HSS speaker. Aim the HSS speaker
at a wall, and the sound will
seem to come from the wall.
When two sound waves are
created simultaneously, they
combine to create two new fre-
quencies: One thats a difference
between the frequencies of the
original waves, and one thats a
combination of the frequencies.
Hermann von Helmholtz, a German physicist, discovered this phenome-
non 150 years ago, which occurs because air is nonlinear (as shown in
the lower-right chart). By carefully measuring the frequencies generated
when playing two notes loudly on a pipe organ, he discovered that four
tones actually occurred.
When using ultrasonic waves, the combined frequency is beyond the
capacity of human hearing. But the frequency thats the difference
between the two is within the human hearing range. For example, to
create middle C (which has a frequency of 263Hz), youd send two
ultrasonic waves with frequencies of 200,000Hz and 200,263Hz. The
combined frequency would be 400,263Hz, well beyond human hearing
capabilities. But the difference in frequency would be 263Hz. Obviously,
implementing the HSS technology is far more complex than this exam-
ple shows, but it provides a basic idea of how HSS works. (An example
of HSS tones is shown in the lower-right chart.)
In this example all four tones are within the human hearing range, all
of which occur at different strengths. (Stronger tones are
represented by longer vertical lines.)
In this example only one of the four tones is within the
human hearing range.
Sources: ATC,
Hypersonic speaker
Piezoelectric crystals joined to
an acoustical interface
principle, though, using ultrasonic waves
to deliver sounds inside the range of
human hearing. Although development
of and research on focused audio contin-
ues (some problems with the technology
include re-creating bass tones and pre-
venting the waves from occasionally
bouncing off unintended objects), some
products are becoming more mainstream.
Use Focused Audio
The list of potential applications for
focused audio is impressive, ranging from
convenience to safety-related to advertis-
ing-related. Here are a few:
Safety. A lifeguard could use focused
audio where audio from a megaphone
couldnt reach to warn a swimmer who is
too far from shore. The focused audio
would carry farther than audio from the
lifeguards voice or from a megaphone.
A police officer could direct commands
to individual people, rather than to all
bystanders, to disperse a crowd or to
move pedestrians more smoothly.
Researchers could focus the noise from
a crosswalk signal that helps a blind per-
son know when to cross the street, letting
the blind person know when he or she has
strayed out of the crosswalk boundaries.
Military. The U.S. military is experi-
menting with using focused audio to
disorient and disable enemies. (ATCs
product is called HIDA [High Intensity
Directed Acoustic].) A powerful blast of
audio waves could disorient an individual,
causing him to fall to the ground and be
rendered helpless, while leaving by-
standers unharmed. Individuals whove
experienced a version of HIDA designed
for the military say, even at low levels, the
audio waves are extremely powerful and
disarming, causing a variety of temporary
health problems including painful, immo-
bilizing headaches. Because HIDA works
on the bones in your inner ear, the device
would incapacitate even deaf people.
On a busy, noisy deck of an aircraft
carrier, personnel often cant hear instruc-
tions or warnings from fellow soldiers.
Focused audio could come through loud
and clear to help prevent accidents.
When storming an enemy stronghold,
soldiers could fool the enemy into think-
ing an attack was coming from one direc-
tion by bouncing focused audio off an
object. The soldiers then could attack
from the other direction and catch the
enemy by surprise.
Entertainment. A family riding in a car
could enjoy individual musical choices
without headphones. Focused audio
would give each person his or her music
choice, and no one could hear the other
persons music.
Museum patrons looking for an audio
description of a particular exhibit could
stand in one spot near the exhibit and
receive the information via focused audio.
Other patrons who didnt want to hear
the audio stream could stand a couple of
feet away, but still in front of the exhibit,
and not hear any of the audio description.
For gaming, the possibilities are almost
endless. Focused audio could give games
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How Traditional Speakers Work
A basic speaker translates the electrical signals that a CD
or other audio source creates into physical vibrations
that become sound waves. A speaker rapidly vibrates its
diaphragm (or cone) to create the sound waves. A
speaker uses many parts to vibrate the diaphragm.
Spider. A flexible ring that attaches the voice coil to the
basket, which lets the coil move back and forth.
Voice coil. A coil of wire that acts as an electromagnet.
The voice coil, in conjunction with the magnet, creates the
vibrations by constantly reversing the polar orientation of
the electromagnet. The voice coil is alternately attracted to
and repelled from the magnet, causing it to move back
and forth rapidly. The voice coil is connected to the di-
aphragm, and the coils movements shift the diaphragm.
Basket. The metal frame of the speaker.
Suspension. A flexible rim connected to the cone that
lets the cone move. The suspension also is attached to
the basket.
Focused audio devices generate . . .
amazing realism. First-person shooters
could hear sounds occurring around
them in the proper position that corre-
lates to the game without the hassle of a
multispeaker setup. In multiplayer games,
each player could hear game sounds or
tips personalized to his situation in the
game without any other player hearing.
At a sporting event, a coach could
give directions from the sidelines to
individual players without the need for
in-helmet speakers and without the
opponent hearing. Also, a fan could
heckle an opposing player and ensure
that only the player hears him.
Television viewers could hear a pro-
gram without bothering anyone else in
the room, such as a sleeping spouse.
Advertising. As a customer pauses to
consider a product display in a store, a
focused audio speaker would give the cus-
tomer information about the product
without disturbing any other shoppers.
In noisy atmospheres, such as a busy
city street, a pedestrian walking past a
restaurant could clearly hear the daily spe-
cials with the focused audio dominating
the stray noise.
At a trade show, focused audio could
draw people into the trade show booth by
overcoming the stray noise in the building
and giving passersby the type of informa-
tion theyre seeking.
Did You Hear That?
As with almost any technology, in the
wrong hands HSS and focused audio
could be dangerous. Beyond the military
applications we already described, there
are potential problems for everyday life.
Those whove witnessed a first-hand
demonstration of HSS say it seems as
though the sound is coming from inside
their heads, even though they know the
device generating the sound is 100 yards
or more away. Sound creepy? Yeah, its a
little creepy, especially if you didn t
know the location of the device generat-
ing the sound. If an advertiser, or some-
one else, could speak to you from a city
bl ock or more away, that coul d be
unnerving, especially if you didnt know
who was speaki ng to you and why.
Without regulations, advertisers might
have the ability to bombard you with
audio ads anytime, anywhere, and from
any direction.
If focused audio technology finds
its way into the everyday fabric of life,
though, it definitely could change the
ramifications of the phrase, Im hearing
voices inside my head. Such voices may
no longer mean you need psychiatric
help; instead, they could mean Heinz is
asking you directly to pick up a bottle of
its new low-carb ketchup, instead of just
looking at the display in the store.
by Kyle Schurman
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Other Focused Audio Solutions
Sources: Dakota Audio, Brown Innovations
Solutions from American Technology Corporation and Holosonic Re-
search arent the only ideas for delivering focused audio.
Dakota Audio. Dakota Audios ( product,
called Focused Sound (left), sends multiple sound waves from multiple
speakers to a focused point. If the listener is standing at the point where
the speakers are aimed, she will hear a resulting sound that combines all
the sound waves. Those people standing away from the focused point
will hear a far-lower sound level. To create this focal point using the
speakers alone, the speakers would need to be arranged perfectly, each
one equidistant from the desired point. Focused Sound lets you place the
speakers in any arrangement thats convenient; the product creates
delays in the sound waves from certain speakers, letting all of the sound
waves converge at the proper time. By further controlling the delays,
Focused Sound can change the focal point or make it larger or smaller.
Brown Innovations. Brown Innovations (www.browninnovations
.com) makes use of sound domes and a product called Localizer (right)
to create focused audio. When the listener is under the dome, she hears
the full audio effect. When she steps outside the dome, though, Brown
says the audio level drops by 80%. The domes natural spherical surface
reflection allows Browns technicians to pinpoint the sound to the user
located directly under the dome. Brown says the sound seems as if its
coming from headphones.
. . . sound waves in a narrow beam.