Acoustic Lenses Show Sound Can Be Focused Like Light

Acoustic lenses are remarkable devices that just got cooler. A recent presentation at SIGGRAPH 2019 showed that with the help of 3D printing, it is possible to build the acoustic equivalent of optical devices. That is to say, configurations that redirect or focus sound waves. One fascinating demonstration worked like an acoustic prism, able to send different notes from a simple melody in different directions. Another was a device that dynamically varied the distance between two lenses in order to focus sound onto a moving target. In both cases, the sounds originate from an ordinary speaker and are shaped by passing through the acoustic lens or lenses, which are entirely passive devices.

Researchers from the University of Sussex used 3D printing for a modular approach to acoustic lens design. 16 different pre-printed “bricks” (shown here) can be assembled in various combinations to get different results. There are limitations, however. The demonstration lenses only work in a narrow bandwidth, meaning that the sound they work with is limited to about an octave at best. That’s enough for a simple melody, but not nearly enough to cover a human’s full audible range. Download the PDF for a quick read about the details, it’s only two pages but loaded with enough to whet your appetite to know more.

Directional sound can be done in other ways as well, such as using an array of ultrasonic emitters to create a coherent beam of sound. Ultrasonic emitters can even levitate lightweight objects. Ain’t sound neat?