Archive for July, 2002

Hyper-Sonic Sound System (HSS), a Device That Can Put Words Inside Your Head

Hyper-Sonic Sound System (HSS), a Device That Can Put Words Inside Your Head from 100 Yards Away

Hearing is Believing

Woody Norris wants to tell you something—and he can put the words inside your head from 100 yards away. Is his invention sound, or just a pipe dream?

By Jamie Reno and N’gai Croal
NEWSWEEK

Aug.5 issue — In this post-Enron era, there aren’t too many CEOs who will cheerfully volunteer to a reporter, “My company’s never made a dime!” But the American Technology Corp.’s Elwood (Woody) Norris isn’t your typical CEO.

BLESSED WITH THE bone-crunching handshake of a used-car salesman, the R-rated vocabulary of a drill sergeant and the potential innovative genius of a Thomas Edison (Norris’s previous claim to fame was creating a forerunner to the sonogram), Norris has an enthusiasm for his latest contraption that’s infectious.

He’s standing in a corner of his cluttered San Diego office, holding a gizmo that looks something like a retro-futuristic waffle iron with a portable CD player Velcroed to its back. “Are you ready?” he asks, then points his invention directly at the head of someone who’s just entered the room 10 feet away. “Now, can you hear it? Can you hear it? Isn’t that unbelievable?” What the person across the room hears is, well, unbelievable: all of a sudden, the sound of a waterfall has materialized in his head. And, it turns out, no one else in the room can hear it but him. It’s as if the sound is coming out of thin air. As Keanu Reeves said in “The Matrix”: whoa.

After more than a decade of trial and error and about $30 million in R&D, the 63-year-old Norris may be on the verge of changing the world as we hear it—and making some major money to boot. The Hyper-Sonic Sound System (HSS), as he calls it, can take an audio signal from virtually any source—home stereo, TV, computer, microphone, etc.—and convert it to an ultrasonic frequency that can be directed like a beam of light toward a target up to 100 yards away. Picture a car where parents can listen to the Eagles while their kids wild out to Eminem in the back seat. This is big audio dynamite—possibly the biggest breakthrough since modern speakers were conceived 77 years ago—and Norris knows it. “It’s rare when you have a Thomas Edison who actually gets fame and success in his own lifetime,” he says with customary modesty. “This is a big, honkin’ hit.”
What’s the secret? In the range that human beings can hear, sound scatters in all directions, like the light from an open flame. Traditional speakers work by moving air; they rapidly vibrate the flexible cones in your speakers to form sound waves. But no single speaker can accurately reproduce the —full range of audible sound (approximately 20Hz to 20,000Hz), so loudspeakers rely on separate units—large woofers for low frequencies, small tweeters for high frequencies and midrange speakers for the middle of the audio spectrum—to re-create the whole range of sound. That works fairly well, but it also has some drawbacks, most notably distortion from the multiple sound fields that become increasingly apparent as you pump up the volume.

Instead of using a vibrating membrane like traditional speakers, the HSS technology electronically converts audible tones into a pair of ultrasonic waves at frequencies far beyond human hearing. But when the ultrasonic waves interact after being processed by Norris’s creation, they reproduce the original audible frequency. Even better, since the audible frequency is being carried by those ultrasonic signals, it’s highly directional. That means you can effectively “shine” a spot of sound wherever you want it. What Norris has done over 10 years is to figure out a relatively inexpensive way to combine the two ultrasonic signals to produce the desired sound. Two weeks ago ATC start- ed limited production, and the company’s small lab is already strewn with the devices. Prices are expected to range from $600 to $900 per unit, depending on size.

It’s easy to see how HSS could make some magic. Imagine a home theater system optimized not for your entire living room but for the club chair that you kick back in. Or a giant nightclub with several different music areas on the dance floor, none of them overlapping. But Norris has $30 million in costs to recoup, and HSS isn’t yet perfected for the lower tones prevalent in music. So some of the cooler stuff will have to wait while he hooks up with retailers and the U.S. military for “Minority Report”-style applications: vending machines that call out to you as you walk by; sonic “guns” that can incapacitate the enemy with 150 decibels of sound without deafening the good guys. One person who came away impressed is U.S. Marine Capt. Todd Gillingham, after a recent demonstration for more than 40 military and law-enforcement representatives. “For instance, it can send the tape-recorded sound of a tank or explosion to another area to throw the enemy off,” he says. “I don’t know about us acquiring this technology in any large quantities at this point, but I do think it has great potential.”

Elwood (Woody) Norris may be on the verge of changing the world as we hear it
That’s music to the longtime inventor’s ears. After Norris sold his first patent for $330,000 in the early ’60s, he quit college and never looked back. His subsequent efforts range from an all-in-one earpiece-microphone for hands-free mobile-phone use (sold to another company for $1.5 million), the world’s smallest AM-FM radio (a modest success) and a personal aviation device (a James Bond-like mini-helicopter that has gotten off the ground, but has yet to truly take off). All this and more can be perused at woodynorris.com, his hilariously self-promotional Web site, where every article ever written about him or his products—from publications like Popular Mechanics and BusinessWeek to Playboy and Gallery—has been carefully scanned and posted. And Norris’s outsize dreams extend to Hollywood; he likes to show off his sci-fi screenplay about—surprise—the world’s greatest physicist.

Not everyone is a believer in the San Diego inventor. A local newspaper characterized him as “a dream spinner who regularly disappointed Wall Street with glowing predictions for various electronic products that subsequently flopped.” Floyd Toole, vice president of acoustical engineering at the high-fidelity audio company Harman International, met with Norris several years ago and remains skeptical. “It’s a party trick,” says Toole about HSS. “We don’t believe it represents a paradigm shift in mass-market audio.” Perhaps Norris’s harshest critic is former MIT Media Lab researcher Joseph Pompei, who’s developed a rival product under the name Audio Spotlight (automaker DaimlerChrysler is evaluating it in some concept cars) and accuses Norris of everything from taking credit for the work of others to dubious business practices, all of which Norris denies. “For over a decade, [Norris has] promoted impressive-sounding technology of which he has very little evidence of real understanding,” says Pompei. Norris shoots back: “His unit is where we were five years ago.”

“You know Panasonic’s slogan ‘Just slightly ahead of our time’?” Norris asks. “Everything I’ve ever invented has been about 10 years ahead of its time. I know the reputation I have in San Diego: that I take too long on these things, that nothing I’ve invented has ever made money. Well, this will be my vindication.” The world will be watching—and listening.

© 2002 Newsweek, Inc.

msnbc.com/news/786016.asp?0dm%3DC11LT%20%20%20
web.archive.org/web/20021129160938/

Tiny Device in Blood Could Warn of Radiation or Illness

Nanotechnology could one day lead to tiny sensors that can be embedded within an astronaut’s blood cells to help monitor for signs of hidden radiation damage that can occur during extended stays in outer space. (NASA TV/AP Photo)

Building Built-In Bio-Sensors
Tiny Device in Blood Could Warn of Radiation or Illness
By Paul Eng

July 12 — One day, the eyes will be more than just windows to someone’s soul. They’ll also be the portal to a person’s health.

At least, that’s what Dr. James R. Baker, Jr. and a team of scientists at the University of Michigan hopes will happen with the help of nanotechnology — microscopic devices that are thousands of times thinner than a human hair.

And the concept, an extension of years of research conducted by Baker and others at the university’s Center of Biological Nanotechhnology to find new ways to detect and fight cancer, sounds fairly simple.

Microscopic Monitors

At the heart of the new detection method would be tiny spheres of synthetic polymers called dendrimers.

Each sphere, or nanosensor, measures a mere five nanometers — or five billionths of a meter — in diameter. (By comparison, the diameter of a typical pinhead is a million nanometers wide.) That means billions of nanosensors can be packed within a small amount of space.

The nanosensors would then be delivered into a human through a skin patch or even digested with food. Once in the body, the tiny nanosensors embed themselves within lymphocytes — the white blood cells that provide the body’s defenses against infection and disease.

As lymphocytes fight certain disease and conditions — say a common cold or the body’s exposure to radiation — the protein composition within the cells change. Each nanosensor, coated with special chemical agents, would fluoresce or glow in the presence of those protein changes.

And to see the glowing signs of the nanosensors, Baker has an ingenious solution.

“Our plan is to develop a retinal-scanning device with a laser capable of detecting fluorescence from lymphocytes as they pass one-by-one through narrow capillaries in the back of the eye,” says Baker. “If we can incorporate the tagged sensors into enough lymphocytes, a 15-second scan should be sufficient to detect cell damage.”

Backed by NASA for Further Study

The concept hasn’t gone far beyond the research stage. But it has warranted the attention — and funding — of NASA.

The government space agency recently bestowed a three-year, $2 million grant to Baker and the Center for Biological Nanotechnology to research the concept further.

“Radiation-induced illness is a serious concern in space travel,” says Baker. “Our goal is to develop a non-invasive system that, when placed inside the blood cells of astronauts, will monitor continuously for radiation exposure or infectious agents.” Baker believes that the concept could work, given that it’s based on similar nanotechnolgy the team has been working on for cancer detection.

But he admits that a lot of research has to be done.

For example, he says it’s still unclear if the fluorescent glow of the nanosensors in the white blood cells could be picked up amid the sea of darker red blood cells. And although he and the research team at the university have had some success in cell cultures in a lab setting, the real test will be if the concept works in virto.

Baker says he hopes to begin testing the process with lab animals, perhaps sometime later this year.

abcnews.go.com/sections/scitech/CuttingEdge/cuttingedge020712.html
web.archive.org/web/20021129160731/

SkyNet is Coming!

“SkyNet” was the fictional artificial intelligence defense grid in James Cameron’s THE TERMINATOR. The SkyNet AI strives to kill or enslave all humans in a MATRIX like reality.

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Commanders Envision Armies of Robots, Swarms of Fighting Drones in the Sky

An association of nearly 300 scientists and engineers spread across 45 project teams and coordinated by the Office of Naval Research is about a year and a half into a five-year, $11 million effort to determine what it will take to build such a system

nytimes.com/2002/07/11/technology/circuits/11NEXT.html
web.archive.org/web/20021129160452/