A San Francisco teenager has invented a gadget that turns iPods into miniature radio stations, broadcasting beats to nearby devices. The system, called NoeStringsAttached, uses FM radio waves to transmit music from a portable music player to any other specially equipped player within 15 feet.
The NoeStringsAttached system consists of two identical units. Each one plugs into the standard headphone jack found on most MP3, CD, and tape players. A user selects one of five radio frequencies and then opts to transmit or receive music by flicking a switch. (The five frequencies were specially selected because they are not often used by traditional broadcasters, but in theory, the device could pick up FM radio stations.)
Listeners don’t even need a music player if they just want to tune in to someone else’s music. All they need is a pair of headphones plugged into a NoeStringsAttached unit.
“It’s basically like you’re listening to a radio with headphones,” says NoeStringsAttached inventor Kristyn Heath.
The 16-year-old says she made the gadget so that she could share her favorite songs with her friends. Heath tried sharing ear buds, but that requires two people standing relatively still and very close together. Even using an adapter to plug two sets of headphones into one iPod wasn’t ideal, Heath says, because the cables “only go so far.” Heath was sure there had to be a way to share her music with lots of friends at once without being tangled up in wires or blasting her music through speakers, forcing everyone to listen to the same thing.
Three years ago Heath turned to her father, Allen Heath, for help. He says it took Kristyn six months to convince him of her idea. “I did not buy it at first,” says Allen, who has more than 30 years of experience in information technology. “We had a number of conversations over time at the dinner table about wireless technologies, and she then formalized her idea in writing with a descriptive drawing.” Kristyn says they decided to take a low-tech approach and use FM radio to transmit the music because they wanted to keep costs down. Other wireless options, such as Wi-Fi (a communication protocol used to wirelessly connect laptops to networks), would have made the product too pricey for their target audience of 15-to-22-year-olds. “Most people my age don’t make that much money,” she says. “We want to keep it affordable.”