Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Musical Wallpaper - Warwick Audio Technologies

warwick audio technologies
Andrew Medley's flat speaker technology - Warwick Audio Technologies
photograph courtesy of Birmingham Post

Singing wallpaper is set to become reality thanks to a Midland student's ground-breaking work in sound technology.

Andrew Medley is on the verge of producing wafer-thin and flexible loudspeakers no thicker than a piece of paper that can be used as decoration within the home.

The 25-year-old Warwick University PhD student will travel to Japan next month to showcase his work at a major scientific conference.

Mr Medley believes the technology -which works by passing an electric current through material to make it vibrate and create sound waves -will transform many areas of everyday life.

'Essentially it is as thin and flexible as a piece of paper,' he said. 'One of my ideas is you could wallpaper your house as a giant speaker. The walls would be the speaker. Once you start thinking about it the possibilities are endless.'

Mr Medley claimed the technology could also be used to create minute hearing aids and eliminate the need for bulky speakers in cars, hi-fi systems and mobile phones.

'You could curve the speaker into any shape, therefore you could get rid of having to have up to 16 different speakers in a car,' he said.

'You could mould the speaker, which means you can direct it to different areas, so the driver is listening to one thing, the passenger something else and the people in the back something completely different.' Other applications include creating computers where the screen is the speaker and mobile phone cases that act as a speaker.

Warwick University has set up a company called Warwick Audio Technologies to further develop the process which it has patented to prevent it being ripped off.

Current research is focusing on developing the speaker so it produces sound of professional quality.

'At present it sounds like a cheap, portable radio,' said Mr Medley.

'But it is getting louder all the time. We don't know how loud it can get through using different materials yet. When we started it was just an idea in the scientific community, but we have taken it forward to the stage now where it is near to becoming a commercial product.' In theory most materials can be turned into a flexible speaker as long as they are constructed in at least three layers. A DC voltage is applied to the two outer layers to create an electric field, while sound in the form of an AC voltage is passed through the centre layer causing it to vibrate, generating the sound.

In the future, the inside of trains, buses and aeroplanes could be 'decorated' with the wafer-thin speakers providing a uniform sound platform for public announcements.

The same principle would also work in shops, on posters and in the home where a wall could serve as an entire music system.

Mr Medley said getting the right balance of material and structure to produce professional sound was the Holy Grail. 'That would be the icing on the cake. We think it will be a possibility,' he said.

'It is a case of taking everything apart and understanding how it works.'

Mr Medley will travel to Kyoto in Japan in April to present his work at the International Congress on Acoustics.