New Flexible, Lightweight Device Lets You Transform Anything Into a Speaker

In Brief


Researchers from Michigan State University have developed a super-thin device capable of translating mechanical energy into electrical energy, and vice-versa. Apart from its applications for touch-screen technology, it could also transmit sound.

Breakthrough Technology

Speakers can be bulky, especially the more powerful ones. So, what if it were possible to enjoy your favorite sounds, say in an event or a party, without the hassle of setting up such massive devices? It could be, with a new device developed by scientists from the Michigan State University (MSU), which they’re calling a ferroelectret nanogenerator, or FENG for short.

This flexible and paper-thin device wasn’t originally meant to be a speaker. Back in its inception in late 2016, FENG was developed to be  “the first transducer that is ultra-thin, flexible, scalable and bidirectional, meaning it can convert mechanical energy to electrical energy and electrical energy to mechanical energy,” said Nelson Sepulveda of MSU. It was able to power a keyboard, LED lights, and an LCD touch-screen.

Now, in a study published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers showed how FENG could also work as a microphone and as a loudspeaker.

A Flag With Sounds

Eager to determine just how well FENG could convert sound to electrical energy and vice-versa, Sepulveda’s team conducted two tests. For its loudspeaker effect, they embedded FENG into an MSU Spartan flag. They patched it to an amplifier connected to an iPad to play music. “The flag itself became the loudspeaker,” Sepulveda said. “So we could use it in the future by taking traditional speakers, which are big, bulky and use a lot of power, and replacing them with this very flexible, thin, small device.” As a microphone, the FENG fabric can be turned into a security patch that utilizes voice recognition to access a computer.

The potential uses for FENG…

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