Silicon-based speaker set to make some noise in future earphones
A company spun off from the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems is looking commercialize a micro loudspeaker made from 100 percent silicon. After successful seed funding, Arioso Systems GmbH is now ready to take the technology to market.
The MEMS (micro-electromechanical system)-based micro speaker technology has been in development for a number of years. It's based around something Fraunhofer calls a Nanoscopic Electrostatic Drive, where rows of 20-micrometer-wide bending strips are built into the body of a silicon chip.
Electrostatic actuators inside these strips react to audio signal voltage, with the subsequent vibrations heard as sound. And the aim is to reproduce high fidelity sound too, so the design could well replace electrodynamic speakers in wireless earphones, but the developers also have our connected world in their sights.
The reported advantages of this method over traditional designs include improved energy efficiency and a much smaller overall footprint, meaning that in-ear wireless headphones could have room inside for tiny data processors and antennas for getting online and interacting with voice services without needing a smartphone or other connected device.
A battery-operated demo system was developed last year, producing sound pressures greater than 100 dB, and the concept presented in a paper published in the Nature Microsystems and Nanoengineering scientific journal. The research team then began working on an amplifier drive circuit.
The Arioso Systems' chips are based on the CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) manufacturing process, which accounts for over 90 percent of worldwide MEMS production, making the micro speaker ideal candidates for mass production. And now the first financing round has been completed, attracting some €2.6 million (about US$2.84 million) into the spin-off's coffers, the company will now focus on developing the technology for Internet of Voice applications.
"The market response to our technology is remarkable," said Dr. Hermann Schenk of Arioso Systems. "Our all silicon micro speaker enables completely new design possibilities and have the potential of creating attractive new value chains. The industry has clearly recognized this. Now it is crucial for Arioso to expedite market readiness."