Innovation

Ultrasonic Speakers Could Be a Breakthrough for Those With Hearing Loss

HyperSound Clear speakers improve clarity and speech via ultrasound beams.
Woody Norris

Norris

Source: Turtle Beach

Form and function
HyperSound Clear speakers emit sound in a controlled, narrow beam. Attached to TVs and other electronics, the speakers are designed to improve clarity and speech intelligibility for those with hearing loss.

Innovator: Woody Norris
Age: 77
Chief scientist at Turtle Beach, a 200-employee audio equipment company in San Diego

Origin
Turtle Beach came from a merger of Voyetra Turtle Beach with Norris’s company, Parametric Sound, which developed the speaker technology.

Background
Norris previously founded Long Range Acoustic Device, which makes a sonic weapon used by ship captains to ward off pirates.

1. Focus
While typical speakers create audio waves that can be several feet long, HyperSounds emit ultrasonic waves with lengths of about 2/15 of an inch.

tech_innovation38-1
Illustration: 731

2. Beam
The waves’ small size means the speakers can focus them in a particular direction. “It’s like a flashlight beam, compared with light from a bare bulb,” Norris says.

HyperSounds’ audio can be heard best by listeners positioned in the beam’s path
HyperSounds’ audio can be heard best by listeners positioned in the beam’s path.
Illustration: 731

3. Conversion
The ultrasonic waves carry an audio signal that’s converted back into sound, maintaining its focused direction, when the wave hits air molecules.

Other uses
Turtle Beach also sells sound-beaming speakers to stores and museums that could use displays that focus audio directly in front of them.

Next Steps
Tests reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has cleared the $1,675 speakers for use as a hearing aid, showed the speakers improved speech cognition among 10 adults with mild to severe hearing loss. Turtle Beach is mostly selling HyperSounds through health-care providers but has begun putting them on retail shelves. In August, the FDA cleared an add-on feature designed to relieve symptoms of tinnitus. Norris’s next project is a speaker that can be integrated into a TV or computer screen, or a car dashboard, to focus sound on people in front of it.

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