For more than a hundred years now, loudspeakers have essentially been doing their jobs the exact same way. The voice coil is excited by a voltage which pushes a cone back and forth against the magnetic field of a magnet, which excites the air. Loudspeakers have gotten more efficient in how they do this, as well as very specialized, but the basic idea hasn't changed much.
Now comes the possibility of something new. The clever scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute of Manufacturing (another division of Fraunhofer brought us the MP3) have demonstrated a prototype speaker made out of our soon-to-be best friends (if you believe scientists around the world) the carbon nanotube (or CNT for short).
An array of nanotubes can activate the air just like a loudspeaker by heating up and cooling down when a small current is passed through them. But that's not what makes this technology a potential leap forward. A nanotube "forest" can be manufactured in extraordinarily thin layers that can actually be transparent, which means that they can be used on top of wallpaper, computer or television monitors, or even outdoor advertising (perish the thought). What's cooler still is that they can be activated remotely by a laser, so a CNT speaker can be completely wireless.
So imagine what would happen if your entire room was essentially a giant speaker. The low frequency response would be great because of the massive cone area, as would the high frequency response because of the insanely fast response of a super-thin transducer. Plus, by using some off-the-shlelf noise-cancelling technology, image how many acoustic problems could be solved. It would be easy to keep that cranked Marshall from raising the ire of your neighbors, and their loud partying from keeping you awake.
We may see a working model on the market in as little as three years.
On a related note, researchers at MIT have announced that they’ve made a new acoustic fiber out of a kind of plastic. This could mean that a shirt made entirely of this material would be able to pick up sound, essentially functioning as a walking microphone. This is certainly a spy's dream (keep it out of the Russian's hands please), and would certainly make a location soundman's life a lot easier. No word on how close to market it is.
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