~e; Hearing to Perceive & Deceive
human being <email@example.com>
Sun, 11 Aug 2002 19:59:07 -0500
/ the below article is quoted in full for several reasons.
/ one being a technology akin to mind-control-on-the-cheap,
/ as a proof-of-concept. another is that this same directional
/ audio (but inaudible, it seems, external to one's brainwaves)
/ has been developed and mentioned in previous posts on list.
/ in addition, this sound technology has potentially dubious
/ uses, thus, an ethical question (which a technology assesment
/ would very much help in grappling with). and, the issue of
/ literacy in a world where today's language of 'digital and
/ analog' is far from being able to describe what is happening
/ with such electromagnetic sci-tech. to again question the
/ need for basic EM literacy, and EM studies to describe and
/ explore and evaluate these developments in the complexity
/ that is required, yet in accessible and understandable words
/ and concepts. (extra abstraction does not help with EM when
/ trying to explain/describe it, as it is abstract enough already).
/ this is, in sum, one way that what might be perceived as a sound
/ device, a transmission system for audio, has a whole-cultural
/ impact, which is in desperate need of informed and vigorous
/ examination. plus, there are also issues relating to freedom
/ of speech and expression, if few will talk to many silently.
Hearing is Believing
Woody Norris wants to tell you something-and he can put the words
inside your head from 100 yards away. Is his invention sound, or just
a pipe dream?
full article,including additional materials (audio/links), at:
By Jamie Reno and N'gai Croal
"Aug.5 issue - In this post-Enron era, there aren't too many CEOs
who will cheerfully volunteer to a reporter, "My company's never made
a dime!" But the American Technology Corp.'s Elwood (Woody) Norris
isn't your typical CEO.
BLESSED WITH THE bone-crunching handshake of a used-car salesman, the
R-rated vocabulary of a drill sergeant and the potential innovative
genius of a Thomas Edison (Norris's previous claim to fame was
creating a forerunner to the sonogram), Norris has an enthusiasm for
his latest contraption that's infectious.
He's standing in a corner of his cluttered San Diego office,
holding a gizmo that looks something like a retro-futuristic waffle
iron with a portable CD player Velcroed to its back. "Are you ready?"
he asks, then points his invention directly at the head of someone
who's just entered the room 10 feet away. "Now, can you hear it? Can
you hear it? Isn't that unbelievable?" What the person across the
room hears is, well, unbelievable: all of a sudden, the sound of a
waterfall has materialized in his head. And, it turns out, no one
else in the room can hear it but him. It's as if the sound is coming
out of thin air. As Keanu Reeves said in "The Matrix": whoa.
After more than a decade of trial and error and about $30
million in R&D, the 63-year-old Norris may be on the verge of
changing the world as we hear it-and making some major money to boot.
The Hyper-Sonic Sound System (HSS), as he calls it, can take an audio
signal from virtually any source-home stereo, TV, computer,
microphone, etc.-and convert it to an ultrasonic frequency that can
be directed like a beam of light toward a target up to 100 yards
away. Picture a car where parents can listen to the Eagles while
their kids wild out to Eminem in the back seat. This is big audio
dynamite-possibly the biggest breakthrough since modern speakers were
conceived 77 years ago-and Norris knows it. "It's rare when you have
a Thomas Edison who actually gets fame and success in his own
lifetime," he says with customary modesty. "This is a big, honkin'
What's the secret? In the range that human beings can hear,
sound scatters in all directions, like the light from an open flame.
Traditional speakers work by moving air; they rapidly vibrate the
flexible cones in your speakers to form sound waves. But no single
speaker can accurately reproduce the -full range of audible sound
(approximately 20Hz to 20,000Hz), so loudspeakers rely on separate
units-large woofers for low frequencies, small tweeters for high
frequencies and midrange speakers for the middle of the audio
spectrum-to re-create the whole range of sound. That works fairly
well, but it also has some drawbacks, most notably distortion from
the multiple sound fields that become increasingly apparent as you
pump up the volume.
Instead of using a vibrating membrane like traditional
speakers, the HSS technology electronically converts audible tones
into a pair of ultrasonic waves at frequencies far beyond human
hearing. But when the ultrasonic waves interact after being processed
by Norris's creation, they reproduce the original audible frequency.
Even better, since the audible frequency is being carried by those
ultrasonic signals, it's highly directional. That means you can
effectively "shine" a spot of sound wherever you want it. What Norris
has done over 10 years is to figure out a relatively inexpensive way
to combine the two ultrasonic signals to produce the desired sound.
Two weeks ago ATC start- ed limited production, and the company's
small lab is already strewn with the devices. Prices are expected to
range from $600 to $900 per unit, depending on size.
It's easy to see how HSS could make some magic. Imagine a home
theater system optimized not for your entire living room but for the
club chair that you kick back in. Or a giant nightclub with several
different music areas on the dance floor, none of them overlapping.
But Norris has $30 million in costs to recoup, and HSS isn't yet
perfected for the lower tones prevalent in music. So some of the
cooler stuff will have to wait while he hooks up with retailers and
the U.S. military for "Minority Report"-style applications: vending
machines that call out to you as you walk by; sonic "guns" that can
incapacitate the enemy with 150 decibels of sound without deafening
the good guys. One person who came away impressed is U.S. Marine
Capt. Todd Gillingham, after a recent demonstration for more than 40
military and law-enforcement representatives. "For instance, it can
send the tape-recorded sound of a tank or explosion to another area
to throw the enemy off," he says. "I don't know about us acquiring
this technology in any large quantities at this point, but I do think
it has great potential."
That's music to the longtime inventor's ears. After Norris sold his
first patent for $330,000 in the early '60s, he quit college and
never looked back. His subsequent efforts range from an all-in-one
earpiece-microphone for hands-free mobile-phone use (sold to another
company for $1.5 million), the world's smallest AM-FM radio (a modest
success) and a personal aviation device (a James Bond-like
mini-helicopter that has gotten off the ground, but has yet to truly
take off). All this and more can be perused at woodynorris.com, his
hilariously self-promotional Web site, where every article ever
written about him or his products-from publications like Popular
Mechanics and BusinessWeek to Playboy and Gallery-has been carefully
scanned and posted. And Norris's outsize dreams extend to Hollywood;
he likes to show off his sci-fi screenplay about-surprise-the world's
Not everyone is a believer in the San Diego inventor. A local
newspaper characterized him as "a dream spinner who regularly
disappointed Wall Street with glowing predictions for various
electronic products that subsequently flopped." Floyd Toole, vice
president of acoustical engineering at the high-fidelity audio
company Harman International, met with Norris several years ago and
remains skeptical. "It's a party trick," says Toole about HSS. "We
don't believe it represents a paradigm shift in mass-market audio."
Perhaps Norris's harshest critic is former MIT Media Lab researcher
Joseph Pompei, who's developed a rival product under the name Audio
Spotlight (automaker DaimlerChrysler is evaluating it in some concept
cars) and accuses Norris of everything from taking credit for the
work of others to dubious business practices, all of which Norris
denies. "For over a decade, [Norris has] promoted impressive-sounding
technology of which he has very little evidence of real
understanding," says Pompei. Norris shoots back: "His unit is where
we were five years ago."
"You know Panasonic's slogan 'Just slightly ahead of our
time'?" Norris asks. "Everything I've ever invented has been about 10
years ahead of its time. I know the reputation I have in San Diego:
that I take too long on these things, that nothing I've invented has
ever made money. Well, this will be my vindication." The world will
be watching-and listening."
copyright 2002 Newsweek, Inc.
fair-use for EM .edu purposes, 2002 ~e.org.
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