Harman just patented a futuristic system of flying robot speakers for 3D audio

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Harman, the audio company that was purchased by Samsung two years ago, has filed a patent for a sound system that uses robots to create the impression of surround sound (via Variety). The patent details how the speakers could move and hover around the user with the help of quadcopters or even “vertical gas jet based propulsion mobility platforms” in an attempt to provide better audio in a virtual environment.

The system is a pretty extravagant approach to surround sound audio when compared to the typical VR approach in which 3D audio is created virtually within a pair of headphones. Harman’s new system could introduce a whole host of issues of its own. For one, the idea sounds awfully noisy, and all of these rotary blades and jet engines risk drowning out the audio from the speakers.


Image: US Patent and Trademark Office
The patent’s images show in abstract terms how the speakers could hover around the user.

The patent describes what it sees as the deficiencies with typical VR audio. It explains, “sounds outputted by stationary speakers may not accurately reflect the distance, direction, and/or motion between the user and a virtual object included in the virtual environment.” What it omits to add is that the sound from these static speakers isn’t at risk of being drowned out by the drone of a quadcopter’s rotary blades.

Variety speculates that the system isn’t meant for home VR users using devices like Samsung’s own Gear VR, but it could instead find its way into public VR attractions like those produced by The Void. In these attractions, multiple people are often inhabiting the same virtual space, and being able to hear exactly the same sound from the same location could have a huge benefit for the sense of immersion.

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