Smart material steps out of the shadows

The SoundBug is a harmless looking electronic device that can turn almost any solid surface into a loudspeaker.

It’s a UK engineering success story, it’s taken CeBit by storm, and this time next year it’ll probably have been banned from most of the schools in Britain.

It is the SoundBug, a harmless looking electronic device that can turn almost any solid surface into a loudspeaker. Simply plug the device into your personal stereo, attach it to the surface of your choice and marvel as the latest sounds emanate from your table.

The core technology behind the Soundbug was developed by Hull-based ‘smart materials’ company Newlands Technology.

The device utilises the phenomenon of Magnetostriction – the situation whereby iron changes shape in a magnetic field.

Newlands Technology has harnessed this phenomenon using a material called Terfenol – a compound of iron and two rare earth elements. Terfenol, which until recently was a classified military material, generates huge magnetostrictive strains under the application of a magnetic field.

Actuators made from this material can be connected to an audiofrequency signal source and used to turn any surface which will vibrate at audiofrequencies to radiate sound.

While the Soundbug is aimed squarely at kids, Newlands is looking into other applications. According to the company’s commercial director Martin Buxton-Hoare, immediate opportunities rest in audio devices. For example, a modified Soundbug could be used as a hands-free kit for car-bound mobile phone users.

In the longer term, Buxton-Hoare says that Newlands is looking at using Terfenol in an ultrasonic application aimed at improving the quality of clothes washing.

Soundbugs are manufactured in Hong Kong by Wave Industries under the Olympia brand.

Arriving on UK shores within the next couple of weeks, they will cost £29.99.

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