Disney develops 3D-printed speakers

AUTHOR: Inavate

A team at Disney is developing small 3D-printed loudspeakers able to reproduce sound of 60 decibels, powered by normal batteries. Cheap to make, and with no moving parts, the speakers are based on electrostatic speaker technology.

The story, which was originally on gizmag.com, quotes the scientists as saying the speakers can faithfully reproduce high frequency sounds like those made by stringed instruments, birds, people. They have been less successful reproducing low-frequency sound however.

Each loudspeaker contains an electrode plate and a thin conductive diaphragm, separated by a layer of air. When a high voltage audio signal is applied to the electrode, the diaphragm deforms and reproduces the sound.

Currently, the prototypes still require a little manual work and assembly (the conductive surfaces are created by spraying on a nickel-based conductive paint), as there aren't any multi-material 3D printers capable of printing with conductive inks.

"In five to 10 years, a 3D printer capable of using conductive materials could create the entire piece," says Yoshio Ishiguro, a Post Doctoral researcher at Disney Research.

It's also possible, the researchers say, to 3D print omnidirectional speakers and directional cone-shaped speakers, as developers can control the direction of the emitted sound by controlling the speaker's shape and electrode arrays.

The Disney team's goal is to make the 3D-printed speakers so simplistic that designers can pick and drop speakers into devices and objects in the design phase,
as additional elements in their computer-aided design (CAD) programs. They plan to investigate techniques for 3D printing very large speakers and speaker arrays next.

Developed by Ishiguro and Ivan Poupyrev, a former Disney Research Pittsburgh principal research scientist, the technology was recently presented at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) in Toronto, Canada.