Skip to Content

Bending Your Ear: Fujifilm’s Flexible Speakers

Fujifilm solves a problem you didn’t know you had, with a “viscoelastic” polymer.
February 6, 2013

Although I’ve mentioned my own skepticism about the utility of a flexible smartphone (see “Why Do We Want a Flexible Phone?”), the quest for that grail continues apace. Screens are just the beginning of that quest (see “Flexible Smartphone Batteries”), and researchers are now broaching the interesting question of how to achieve flexible speakers.

Flexible things are soft. But the vibrating plate of speakers can’t be soft, or they’d absorb their own sound. A seemingly insolvable conundrum.

Yet solve it Fujifilm has. The trick is to make speakers out of a material that’s hard when it needs to be hard, and soft when it needs to be soft. As ExtremeTech and others explain, the key was to develop a so-called “viscoelastic polymer.” For something to be viscoelastic, it needs to be viscous at some times, elastic at others. (Think of your Tempur-Pedic mattress, for instance, which obeys the same property.)

As a Fujifilm rep put it to Diginfo: “This film is normally soft, but it becomes hard in the audio frequency range. That’s because it’s designed so that, when the ceramic vibrates in the audio range, from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, the vibrational energy is transmitted to the entire film.” When it needs to be malleable, the film will oblige. When it needs to be rigid in order to push out those beats, the film rises to that task, too.

To prove their point in a particularly spectacular fashion, Fujifilm bent a speaker into an origami swan, and it still worked. Check out this video.

ExtremeTech has some more details on the composition of the speaker: the viscoelastic polymer is mixed with “piezoelectric” ceramic (see “A Heartbeat-Powered Pacemaker” for more on piezoelectricity), which is in turn “housed within electrodes and a protective shell.” Voltage from those electrodes causes the polymer to vibrate, producing sound. Nikkei has a few more details on how the tech works, including a strategy to release strain energy as heat, thereby preventing cracks.

It’s cool technology, for sure. Unfortunately, Fujifilm hasn’t been forthcoming about when, if ever, it stands to be commercialized. (It was touted at nano tech 2013, a conference in Tokyo that wound up last Friday.) Keep clamoring for those flexible smartphones, though, and it might just be around the corner.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.