07 Jun Sound Focus plans to enter home-entertainment market after taking Governor's prize
Sound Focus has a plan: rework home entertainment with a speaker system that can project different sounds to different places without complicated acoustic engineering.
That plan won top honors in the information technology category at Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle’s first annual business-plan contest. But for now, Sound Focus is another start-up looking for enough funding to kick-start its entry into the competitive entertainment market. Will its core technology be enough to push it to the top?
Founders Jeffrey P. Milsap and Michael Underwood certainly think so, and they’ve already made plans past home entertainment. They want to see their product in museums (no more donning headphones and pressing the big button next to the display) or other exhibition centers.
Underwood compared the technology to a “whispering chamber.” Legend has it that John Adams had one special spot in the U.S. Capitol where he could hear everything the opposition party said. In that case, the sound bounced off the walls in just the right way. But Sound Focus hopes to create a set of flat-panel speakers that can project sound without needing bank shots.
The technology is called “phased array acoustics,” and it involves projecting several sounds at the same time from each speaker panel. By timing the audio channels just right, the system can produce localized sounds that people outside of a certain area effectively cannot hear at all.
Key to its development, Underwood said, is the availability of high-quality dime-size speakers, many of which can be fit into a single panel.
“We’re doing this with off-the-shelf parts,” he said.
The rest of the work, though, rests on an embedded computer chip that times the multiple simultaneous sound emissions. With a bit of motion detection, Underwood said, it can even make a given sound channel track someone as they move around the covered area.
The challenge will be pitching the system to the market, especially the coveted early adopters, who are more willing to pay for brand-new technologies rather than the same old stereo system.
Past home entertainment, past even museums, Underwood has a vision for new developments in advertising. Like the individually targeted displays that call out to consumers by name in the movie Minority Report, he thinks Sound Focus’s targeted audio could blend with identity recognition to produce custom voice advertisements at booths or in stores.
So if the voices in your head start to bother you, relax. Everyone else is hearing their own.
Jason Stitt is a staff writer for the Wisconsin Technology Network and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.