Berlin's BoomRoom Plays Sounds Only You Can Hear (and Touch)

You know how some big rooms have special spots where you can stand and hear someone whisper from a hundred feet away. What if speakers could do that, selectively slinging sounds to specific listeners for specific purposes? You'd never have to wear headphones again!

Well, it turns out they can do that—but not because of special speakers. In Berlin, professor Jörg Müller has developed something called a "BoomRoom." Using a ring of 56 directional audio loudspeakers, 16 gesture-recognition cameras, and—most importantly—hyper-intelligent audio-processing algorithms, this room creates an interactive sound experience unlike any other. Specific sounds representing data—like an email or a tweet—fly around the room and can be caught and listened to by simply grabbing at them. New Scientist explains:

A music track, for instance, could be assigned to an object in the room such as a vase. To play the track you simply pick up the vessel and "pour out" a track in mid air. Gestures such as moving your hands apart or bringing them together can alter qualities like volume, treble and bass. "The instruments exist in mid-air so you can do your own sound mixing," says Müller…

But wait, there's more:

Another aim is to assign sounds to items in a room to reduce the number of gadgets we need. A bowl of marbles, for instance, could become an answering machine: the bowl could click when there are messages in it – and the user picks up a marble to hear a message. When they have heard it, pretending to pluck it out of the marble deletes the message.

If this sounds outlandish, it's because it is. There are, however, very real-world applications for this kind of technology. The precise-targeting of sounds, for instance, could make life a lot easier for the seeing impaired. Instead of using a cane to tap their way around a room, specific objects could make a sound indicating their location, and only the blind person would hear them. In a car, so-called "hypersound" speakers could ensure that only the driver hears the GPS instructions.

This technology isn't just in Berlin. In California, hypersound speakers are being tested in McDonald's (of all places) so that the TVs in the restaurant blast the audio to specific tables. Sounds incredible, huh? But it's also pretty damn useful.

Berlin's BoomRoom Plays Sounds Only You Can Hear (and Touch)

A diagram explaining how the BoomRoom works from a paper by Müller and his colleagues.

Image via Shutterstock