Hypersonic Sound (HSS) - Loudspeaker Just For You

Hypersonic Sound (HSS) technology does for sound what lasers did for light - provide a far more focused stream of energy over a greater distance with less dispersion. Inventor Woody Norris (shown below with his invention) has received several awards for the idea, including a Grand Prize for inventions from Popular Science: the Segway took second that same year. He was awarded the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT prize this past week.


(From Hypersonic Sound (HSS) Technology)

In a recent demonstration at the American Technology Corporation, the speaker (shown above) was pointed at someone one hundred yards away. The listener heard the sound as if through headphones - despite the ambient noise from a nearby freeway - and people two feet to either side heard nothing. Sound from an HSS speaker can travel up to 150 yards without distortion or loss of volume; anyone outside the beam path hears nothing.

Here's how it works:

The piezoelectric transducer emits sound at frequencies above the human ear's 20,000-cycle threshold. Unlike low-frequency waves, the high-frequency signals don't spread out as they travel through air. Yet they do interact with the air to induce a related set of ultrasonic waves. These waves combine with the original waves, interfering to create an audible signal, focused into a beam.
(From Hypersonic Sound)

Among the many planned applications:

  • Laptop speakers that only the user can hear
  • Grocery store displays heard only by the person standing directly in front of them
  • Entirely separate sound for front seat passengers and for those in the rear seats
  • Workers on the flightline on aircraft carriers
  • Life guards could warn individual swimmers at noisy pools
Cirque de Solei is considering using it to beam instructions to trapeze artists.

The idea of wireless communication has fascinated science fiction writers. One very close analog to this idea showed up in E.E. "Doc" Smith's 1937 novel Galactic Patrol, in the form of a tight-beam ultra-communicator:

"Squads left - march!" Although no possible human voice could have been heard in that gale of soul-stirring sound and although Kinnison's lips scarcely moved, his command was carried to the very bones of those for whom it was intended - and to no one else - by the tight-beam ultra-communicators strapped upon their chests. "Close formation - forward - March!" (From Galactic Patrol)

Read more about the Hypersonic Sound technology at ABC News and the Woody Norris website. Those of you interested in other forms of personal communcators might want to check out the audio relay (Robert Heinlein, 1951), the distrans (Frank Herbert, 1965) and the communications implant (Niven and Pournelle, 1981). Or see what I have on the site related to communications technovelgy. (Thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip on this story.)

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/22/2005)

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