Paper-Thin LoudSpeaker

MIT engineers have developed a paper-thin loudspeaker that can turn any surface into an active audio source. This thin-film loudspeaker produces sound with minimal distortion while using a fraction of the energy required by a traditional loudspeaker. The hand-sized loudspeaker the team demonstrated, which weighs about as much as a dime, can generate high-quality sound no matter what surface the film is bonded to.

To achieve these properties, the researchers pioneered a deceptively simple fabrication technique, which requires only three basic steps and can be scaled up to produce ultrathin loudspeakers large enough to cover the inside of an automobile or to wallpaper a room. Used this way, the thin-film loudspeaker could provide active noise cancellation in clamorous environments, such as an airplane cockpit, by generating sound of the same amplitude but opposite phase; the two sounds cancel each other out. The flexible device could also be used for immersive entertainment, perhaps by providing three-dimensional audio in a theater or theme park ride. And because it is lightweight and requires such a small amount of power to operate, the device is well-suited for applications on smart devices where battery life is limited.

MIT researchers have developed an ultrathin loudspeaker that can turn any rigid surface into a high-quality, active audio source. The straightforward fabrication process they introduced can enable the thin-film devices to be produced at scale.

It feels remarkable to take what looks like a slender sheet of paper, attach two clips to it, plug it into the headphone port of your computer, and start hearing sounds emanating from it. It can be used anywhere. One just needs a smidgeon of electrical power to run it,” says Vladimir Bulović, the Fariborz Maseeh Chair in Emerging Technology, leader of the Organic and Nanostructured Electronics Laboratory (ONE Lab), director of MIT.nano, and senior author of the paper.

Bulović wrote the paper with lead author Jinchi Han, a ONE Lab postdoc, and co-senior author Jeffrey Lang, the Vitesse Professor of Electrical Engineering.
The research has been published in IEEE Transactions of Industrial Electronics.