Disney Creates 3D Printed Interactive Speakers
Kyle Maxey posted on May 06, 2014 |
Researchers at Disney blend old and new technologies to create a novel type of speaker that can be b...

3D printing, disney, speaker, sound, computers, gamesA newly developed audio concept could turn loudspeakers into interactive entertainment units that defy the current expectation of what a speaker should look like.

Developed using 3D printing, the Disney Research speaker technology is an experiment in interactive technology and modern manufacturing techniques.

At the new speaker’s core is the electrostatic speaker, a technology developed in the 1930s. The PA system in an electrostatic speaker is simpler than its conventional counterpart in that it contains no moving parts. Built around a thin conductive diaphragm and an electrode partitioned by a slight air filled gap, the system loads a high voltage audio signal onto its electrode creating an electrostatic imbalance between the two surfaces. Due to this imbalance the machine’s diaphragm begins to contort, producing sound as the audio signal oscillates from one note to another.

While the speaker can’t produce much in the way of bass, it is capable of reproducing mid to high-range sounds and can even deliver ultrasonic notes. Although human ears can’t pick up ultrasonic sound, machines are able to detect them; meaning Disney’s speakers could be used as an interactive element in future entertainment systems.

Blending the old with the new, Disney’s researchers turned to CAD and 3D printing to create their speaker models. By leveraging AM technology researchers were able to create speakers of incredibly unique shape, however, even these models required secondary processing to transform into a functional speaker. To complete their speaker the Disney team spray painted their parts with a conductive nickel-based paint and wired the speakers manually.

While 3D printers are just beginning to produce objects in multiple materials, Disney’s researchers predict that all of the post-processing work done in their speaker project could be integrated into a single print job. “In five to 10 years, a 3D printer capable of using conductive materials could create the entire [speaker],” said lead researcher Yoshio Ishiguro.

Although Ishiguro’s prediction for robust multi-material additive manufacturing might be a bit optimistic, creative minds like those at Disney can help advance additive manufacturing. Moreover, Disney’s use of AM is a valuable experiment in what the future of design might look like and how 3D printing will reshape manufacturing.

Image and Video Courtesy of Disney Research

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