Jul 19, 2016 | By Andre

Sound cancelling headphones have been around for years in one form or another. Whether it’s digitally controlled buffering methods or the good ol’ fashioned ear-plug variety, the buffering of external noise to suit our needs is something people have been experimenting with for years.

A group of Columbia Engineering researchers has taken this to the next level by leveraging the advantages present in manufacturing with 3D printing to control sound waves using a computational approach with the ability to convert arbitrary shapes into very controllable acoustic filters. To do this, acoustic voxels (or small and hollow cube-shaped chambers through which sound enters and exits) that can be interlinked and sized to meet the desired acoustic tolerances are formed with the 3D printer.


Professor Changxi Zheng explains things more closely by suggesting that, "in the past, people have explored computational design of specific products, like a certain type of muffler or a particular shape of trumpet,” but that his team’s algorithm “enables new designs of noise mufflers, hearing aids, wind instruments, and more -- we can now make them in any shape we want, even a 3D-printed toy hippopotamus that sounds like a trumpet.” Just think, orchestras in the future might be playing the 3D printed hippo instead of a trumpet.

But their research is more than just a way to modify how sound is interpreted. It also allows for the creation of what they call acoustic tags. This is a sort of meta data that can be encoded into every 3D print, which in turn carries slightly different acoustic patterns that can used as something similar to a QR code or RFID tag. This means its now possible to code into a variety of shapes a means to activate the corresponding device, whatever it may be simply by hitting the proper frequency or note.

It has all been made possible with the advent of 3D printing and the flexibility it offers from a manufacturing standpoint. Zheng notes that "with 3D printers today, geometric complexity is no longer a barrier. Even complex shapes can be fabricated with very little effort. So the question is: can we use complex shapes to improve acoustic properties of products?”

Further down what makes this research exciting is the possibility of encoding more and more acoustic data directly into any physical object. Labeling parts or even installing copyright data acoustically might one day become the norm for collecting information in parts that would look cleaner without a splattering of comparable text markings. Also, as is presented in the above video, the team is able to filter out specific sounds over others using noise cancelation algorithms.

It’s the control of the audible world using a low-cost 3D printing solution that has me excited over anything else. The nitty gritty details can be found directly on their research paper but if you’re more interested in testing things out for yourself, they have example 3D printable files available on 3D model file-sharing site Thingiverse in the form of a tapping piggy and Octopus Bits for free.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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