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Helicopter silencers used to turn all surfaces stereo

by Staff Writers
Las Vegas, Nevada (AFP) Jan 9, 2008
A failed effort to soften the noise from British military helicopters led to a breakthrough enabling surfaces from mobile telephone screens to car roof liners to be turned into stereo speakers.

The technology was sold to Cambridge-based NXT, which christened it "SurfaceSound" and arranged for it to be crafted into Toyota cars, Gateway computers, Hallmark greeting cards and more.

"The UK ministry of defense was experimenting with a way to dampen the sound in helicopters and developed a honeycombed material that did the opposite -- conducted sound," James Bullen of NXT told AFP.

A prototype of a folding flat-panel speaker about the size of a pocket journal and 14 millimeters thick was among creations NXT showed off at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Bullen flipped open a Butterfly speaker made by Iqua Ltd. and plugged in an iPod Nano. An instant later, Frank Sinatra's voice belted out richly in NXT's suite in the Las Vegas Hilton.

Between the Butterfly and a view of snow-capped mountains outside the desert city was a Gateway all-in-one computer with a transparent "SoundVu" screen that doubles as a speaker for music or online conversations.

The screen aims music directly at computer users while not interfering with what they are seeing on the screen.

The screen can be divided into as many as six different speaker zones, meaning someone could have online chats with a half dozen people at once.

Toyota has SurfaceSound in the head liners of four of its car models and the material is used in screens of some mobile telephones available in Japan, according to NXT, which licenses the technology to electronics makers.

NXT plans to tap into the booming digital photo frame market with models that project sound from clear acrylic screens directly at viewers. Current audio-enabled digital photo frames feature speakers in the rear.

Loudspeaker bars that clip to laptop computers and a slim hands-free mobile phone chatting device that fit on car visors are also made with SurfaceSound material.

NXT recently made a deal with greeting card giant Hallmark to use the technology in "big cards with big sound" when opened, Bullen said.

"These products speak for themselves," NXT chief executive Peter Thoms told AFP, claiming the pun was intended.

"The wow factor is when people hear it. We're going where other people can't put loudspeakers."

NXT is working on ways to put the technology to use in touch screens that promise to be part of a new rage in "natural interfaces" for computers, mobile telephones, televisions and other electronic devices.

The SurfaceSound material can be made to vibrate when touched, with individual frequencies tailored to each finger.

"We hear a lot of talk that touch screens are going to be big," Thoms said.

"So the challenge now is to make a silent loudspeaker; something you feel but don't hear unless you hold it close to your ear."

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Smaller Is Stronger - Now Scientists Know Why
Berkeley CA (SPX) Jan 03, 2008
As structures made of metal get smaller - as their dimensions approach the micrometer scale (millionths of a meter) or less - they get stronger. Scientists discovered this phenomenon 50 years ago while measuring the strength of tin "whiskers" a few micrometers in diameter and a few millimeters in length. Many theories have been proposed to explain why smaller is stronger, but only recently has it become possible to see and record what's actually happening in tiny structures under stress.

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