Screening Emo Labs' New Speaker Technology

DN Staff

January 23, 2009

3 Min Read
Screening Emo Labs' New Speaker Technology

For notebook computer designers, maximizing internal realestate and minimizing weight is always an issue. Replacing a component withsomething lighter and more svelte that performs better is a well-trodden design path.

A startup in Waltham, MA called Emo Labs aims to put speakers innotebooks, TVs, monitors, auto telematics and even cell phones on a diet. Theirtechnology, known as EdgeMotion, embeds a thin plastic membrane over the screen that is permanentlyclamped in the middle inside a light metal frame. Typically, the membrane is madefrom PET plasticsimilar to that found in touch-screen applications (and milk jugs), accordingto Emo Labs CEO Jason Carlson.

On either end, piezo actuators tug onthe membrane at an extremely fast rate to create terrific (my words ... I heard it)stereo sound. The left speaker is on that side of the membrane while the other sidehouses the right side speaker (remember, the membrane is the speaker. There areno speaker speakers, if you will).

While fidelity isvastly improved over low-quality computer and TV speakers, the visual effectsof sound coming directly from an actor's or singer's lips is just as compelling.Given that conventional computer speakers often sit to the left and right of amonitor, the sound is never perfectly in sync with the video. But Edge Technology gets closer,offering the viewer/listener more of the movie theater sound experience.

A proprietary amplifier built from off-the-shelf components controlthe actuators which vibrate the membrane to produce sound, says Carlson. "Traditional speakerslook like a resistor to the electronics. Ours looks more like a capacitor," hesays, explaining the requirements of the Emo Labs amplifier.

Asked how he came up with the idea, inventor Lewis Athanas,a speaker designer with four patents and 36 products to his credit according tothe Emo Labs' website, says "I did the math and it works. Most people inthe field don't get comparing movements with theory," he says. Now Emo Labs' CTO,Athanas began work on Edge Motion in2001 in his garage and has steadily improved several iterations since. Emo Labswas formed in 2006.

This type of technology falls into the category of planarspeakers, which use membranes like Edge Technology. Conventional speakers aretypically horn-shaped and use magnetic fields to drive sound, although there aremanytypes.  

The company that comes closest to Emo Labs is NXT, which claims to haveshipped 4.5 million units incorporating its Distributed ModeLoudspeaker (DML) and Audio Full Rangeloudspeaker (AFR) technologies as of mid-2008. The Cambridge, England-based company has signed avariety of monitor and automakers. Another planar speaker company is Martin Logan, which has a membrane drivenby a conventional speaker, which is absent in the Emo Labs and NXT technologies. 

Carlson says Emolabs is close to signing up two OEMs tostart, but won't say who they might be. The technology will add $20-$40 to thecost of manufacturing a TV, for example. That will translate to $75-$90 atretail. He says to look for the technology in places like Best Buy by the end ofthe year or early next.

As for testing, Carlson says they've run a unit 24x7 for30 days at elevated voltage and heat levels, but were unable to break it. Willthey replace conventional speakers? Carlson backs away from that ambitious andperhaps unrealistic idea, but mentions another.

"That's not what we are going for. We want to benumber one on the embedded speaker market."

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