Who invented speaker technology

Smartphones are so powerful and small because everything inside works digitally. Everything? Not quite. Loudspeakers still work analogue, they take up a lot of space and don't sound good. But now an Austrian start-up is coming and wants to change that. It could be the most important advancement in loudspeaker technology in decades.

The key word here is MEMS, microsystem technology. Smartphone owners have been using them for a long time, albeit mostly unconsciously: They turn their device from the vertical to the horizontal position and the display automatically changes to landscape format. Built-in position sensors, which are mass-produced from silicon, detect quickly, reliably and in an energy-saving manner how the mobile phone is being held. The components used for this are tiny. The microphones that are now found in almost all smartphones are based on the same technology. Despite their small size, they are of amazingly good quality.

In-ear headphones will be the first product to hit the market

What has not yet been available to buy are loudspeakers, which can also be mass-produced on the basis of silicon. Many companies have researched it for decades. And now the Austrian start-up Usound has come up with an interesting solution. Based on research exclusively acquired by the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology (ISIT) in Itzehoe, Usound has designed a technology that could be successful wherever small size and low energy consumption are important.

The technology from the Graz-based company works like this: A piezo layer is applied to a silicon substrate. Piezo material is characterized by the fact that it converts electrical energy into motion. If you apply an alternating voltage, the piezo layer begins to vibrate - and the movement generates sound.