What just happened? Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed an ultra-thin loudspeaker that can turn any surface into an active sound source. A lightweight speaker that weighs about the size of a dime can produce high-quality sound with minimal distortion, no matter what surface it’s attached to.

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To be clear, turning ordinary objects into speakers is not a new idea. Devices with similar functionality have been around for years, but they are mostly novelties with no real purpose.

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A traditional loudspeaker uses an electrical current passing through a coil of wire to create a magnetic field. This, in turn, drives the speaker’s membrane, which moves air around it, creating the sounds we hear.

Like MIT Basic moments, most thin film speakers are self-contained because the film needs space to move in order to reproduce sound. Mounting a traditional speaker on a surface will inhibit vibration and limit its ability to generate sound.

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To get around this problem, the team created a material that uses tiny domes 15 microns high (about one-sixth the thickness of a human hair) on a thin layer of piezoelectric material, each vibrating individually. The cushioning layers provide enough clearance to allow them to vibrate freely, while also protecting them from everyday impact and abrasion, increasing durability.

An MIT creation is paper-thin and can be scaled up to produce loudspeakers large enough to cover the inside of a car or even wallpaper a room. For example, researchers believe that in the cockpit of an aircraft, it can be used to generate sound of the same amplitude, but with opposite phase, to suppress unwanted sound. In other words, active noise cancellation.

“We have the ability to accurately generate mechanical air movement by activating a scalable physical surface,” said Vladimir Bulovich, senior author of the study. paper on this topic. “The options for using this technology are endless.”