Paper-thin speakers to plaster the streets, blare advertisements at you

This interesting new speaker technology being researched at Warwick University produces sound without the conical shape of most speakers, but unlike your garden-variety flat-panel speakers, it’s also flexible. It’s long past time speakers began to take drastically different shapes, but I’m bothered by the possible applications of this one in particular. What we’ve got here is essentially a talking ad.

Now, obviously you could use it for better stuff, like embedded speakers in cars and houses that take up very little room, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that this sort of thing quickly gets co-opted by either the military or advertising. The project is unrelated to these carbon nanotube speakers, which we haven’t heard anything about since the research announcement. Those ones will be so thin they could mount a hundred of them underneath your fingernail.

We thought we’d ask THX about the technology and see what they thought. Their chief scientest, Laurie Fincham, had this to say:

“The majority of speakers are round and the cone is made of paper. In appearance and construction they have changed little in the last 60 years or so. New materials and manufacturing techniques, however, have improved the price/performance ratio. Today’s customer wants more than just good sound. Top of their list is usually ‘smaller’ and ‘better looking.’ With today’s emphasis on picture and sound, there are often more listeners who prefer an informal seating layout. One technique that THX has developed is Slot Speaker technology, which takes the sound from a round speaker and directs it through a narrow slot. This not only gives us more interesting design options, but also an even distribution of sound to larger listening areas.”

Of course, these weird little speakers have to be limited in their tonal reproduction range. How can it make 20Hz waves when it can hardly move a fraction of a millimeter? Well, when the company releases its first product (supposedly next year some time) we’ll have an answer to that.