Scientists at Disney Research, Pittsburgh have developed methods using a 3D printer to manufacture interactive speakers.
With the proposed technology, sound reproduction can easily be integrated into various objects at the design stage.
The speaker can take the shape of anything from an abstract spiral to a rubber duck, opening new opportunities in product design.
Furthermore, both audible sound and inaudible ultrasound can be produced with the same design, allowing for identifying and tracking 3D printed objects in space using common integrated microphones.
The design of 3D printed speakers is based on electrostatic loudspeaker technology first explored in the early 1930s but never broadly adopted until now. These speakers are simpler than common electromagnetic speakers, while allowing for sound reproduction at 60 dB levels with arbitrary directivity ranging from focused to omnidirectional.
Researchers created conductive surfaces by spraying a nickel-based conductive paint and developed a method for making full-body compliant diaphragms using negative molds produced by 3D printing and spraying them with the conductive paint and with a polyethylene coating.
Little assembly is required, but these few manual steps might be eliminated in the future, said Yoshio Ishiguro, a Disney Research, Pittsburgh post-doctoral associate. Once multi-material 3D printers are developed that can print functional electrical circuits and electrodes, these manual steps could be eliminated.
"In five to 10 years, a 3D printer capable of using conductive materials could create the entire piece," he predicted.
Ishiguro and Ivan Poupyrev, a former Disney Research, Pittsburgh principal research scientist, will present this method April 29 at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) in Toronto.