Scientists create paper-thin speakers that could be used like wallpaper

Every few decades, speakers get a little more immersive thanks to advancements in sound processing technologies and cheaper access to surround sound components.

But what if you could literally turn all the walls in your home into one giant speaker?

That might just be possible in the coming years. Researchers at MIT have developed a new type of paper-thin loudspeaker that is lightweight and durable enough to attach to all sorts of surfaces.

All that sounds neat, but fanciful technologies don’t mean much if they’re too complicated and expensive to commercialize. But this newfangled speaker promises the opposite: MIT News says the speaker-paper can be built with a three-step process that’s seemingly simpler than traditional speakers.

It’s worth noting here that this thin speaker business isn’t totally new. Planar magnetic and electrostatic drivers also rely on thin and flat vibrating material, leading to unusually slim speaker designs.

But even the material described in the MIT paper isn’t unheard of: the speakers use polyvinylidene fluoride film (PVDF), which has piezoelectric properties and has been used for speakers since at least the 70s.

Traditionally, PVDF speakers have faced numerous design challenges that prevented their commercial viability, including problematic durability and limited frequency response. They also required a sturdy supporting structure, and ultimately didn’t offer much of an advantage over traditional drivers.

MIT’s primary innovation here appears to be in reinforcing the material by reshaping it. A perforated layer of PET plastic is applied to the sheet of PVDF, which when treated with heat in a vacuum causes the PVDF to squeeze through the perforations, creating myriad tiny domes. 

Credit: MIT News