In what is perhaps the most science-fiction worthy story of the week, scientists at Harvard have created a gel-based speaker that is both clear and stretchy, able to play music while demonstrating the abilities of ionic conductors. To show off its capabilities, the scientists used it to play the “Morning” prelude from Peer Gynt. You can hear the speaker for yourself in a video we have after the break.
The audio signal in this case is conducted via ions instead of electrons, which is the common modus operandi. The speaker itself is made from a thin piece of rubber placed between a couple of saltwater gel layers, making for a speaker that is both see-through and able to stretch. Even better, the contraction and vibration a signal sends through the rubber results in the ability to play audio across the entire (audible) spectrum.
This is a world’s-first invention, and serves as more than an incredibly interesting way to produce audio — it is also said to be the first showcasing of what ions can do in the place of electronics. The use of ions also serves many purposes that current technologies can’t, such as being biocompatible for use with biological systems, as well as being better suited for both optical uses (due to being clear) and for stretchable electronics.
One of the co-lead authors, Christoph Keplinger, said: “The big vision is soft machines. Engineered ionic systems can achieve a lot of functions that our body has: they can sense, they can conduct a signal, and they can actuate movement. We’re really approaching the type of soft machine that biology has to offer.”
An incredible first step, the Harvard scientists say there is still a lot of work to be done, with there being mention of different materials and which are best suited for the projects. Perhaps even more exciting, however, was the mention of wearable technology. Said one of the scientists: “You could imagine eventually having a pair of glasses that toggles between wide-angle, telephoto, or reading modes based on voice commands or gestures.”