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A team from the Institute for Print and Media Technology at Chemnitz University of Technology, Saxony, had been working on the project for just two and a half years when they managed to make a successful prototype.

The paper loudspeaker was made by printing several layers of a conductive organic polymer and a piezoactive layer which is an active element of most acoustic transducers onto a regular piece of paper.The paper is then fitted with a cable which is connected to a computer or MP3 player. Sounds are produced when the layers vibrate against each other and push out sound. The printable loudspeakers can produce up to 80 decibels which is about the same as a ringing telephone or alarm clock. Amaseing!

Researchers say the speakers are surprisingly robust and can be produced at a low-cost because of the mass printing possibilities of polymers. Dr. Georg Schmidt, senior researcher at pmTUC explained that, as polymers are cheap to make in big batches, the printable speaker could not only become a practical, cheaper alternative to normal speakers. That is as long as you don’t mind a slight lack of bass – the speakers cannot yet deliver heavy sounds when turned up to 11. Ok, so no thumping bass, but these researchers are thinking ahead. Printable electronics are expected to generate around $13 billion by 2016. In fact, a market research report says this printable electronics will see a compound annual growth rate of 29.4% over the next five years. And, even though it’s just a prototype, this printable loudspeaker creates a possibility for new applications.

The team in Chemnitz have high hopes for the printable speaker, which is highly flexible and even “produces a better sound when it is being bent” Schmidt said, but refrained from going into the complicated physics behind this. While the speaker could be a great alternative to regular speakers, the team are particularly interested in the idea of developing “intelligent packaging”.  The speakers will be on display in Düsseldorf, at the “drupa” – an international print-media expo that takes place between May 3 and May 16.

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