A revolutionary new metamaterial technology that enables sound to be directed, shaped and focused in real time has had its first public demonstration at CES 2018 in Las Vegas this week.
An early version of the Metasonics 'spatial sound modulator', developed by researchers at the Universities of Sussex and Bristol, was reported in Nature Communications in February last year. Since then, development has gathered pace, with various practical applications showcased at CES, the world’s largest tech conference.
One demo showed how the technology allows a car’s driver and passengers to listen to different audio simultaneously, without earphones or accessories. The sound is directed from a central console display on the dashboard – enabling the driver to receive GPS directions while passengers hear the radio uninterrupted.
Prof Sriram Subramanian, Professor of Informatics, University of Sussex, said: "Metasonics technology enables acoustic waves to be controlled and manipulated in a manner not seen before. It provides enhanced control over sound and will give technology greater power to enhance people's lives. This will represent a step change in how sound may be used and managed in the digital age."
Dr Mihai Caleap, Senior Research Associate, University of Bristol said: "Our spatial sound modulation technology is unique in introducing an extremely cost effective, reconfigurable, compact and, most importantly, scalable solution that will be disruptive to a broad range of application areas.
"It would enable step changes to be made in a diverse range of ultrasonic applications, from acoustic tweezers to medical imaging to a multitude of consumer products, and would fill an obvious gap in a variety of markets, providing a mainstay alternative to acoustic lenses and phased arrays."
Another concept showcased was described as an 'invisible window' that lets in fresh air while redirecting traffic or construction sounds from the street outside. The team have suggested that larger-scale applications of the same premise might help pub gardens to avoid upsetting the neighbours with noise pollution late at night.
Other mooted possibilities include PA systems that can target individuals in a crowd and follow them with a personal audio message – helping retailers to deliver personalised special offers in-store, transport hubs to alert specific passengers, or museums and galleries to present tailored exhibits.
Metasonics is currently seeking commercial partners to help them understand more about sound manipulation requirements within different industries. A new web interface, launching soon, will enable interested parties to custom-design sound-blocking or redirection based on specific needs or constraints. Visit metasonics.co.uk to find out more and enquire.