The desks are alive with the sound of music at the CeBIT show in
Hannover, as Olympia launches a cheap device that will turn any flat
surface into the biggest speaker on the block.
be more famous for making typewriters, but Olympia has just revealed
what some observers are calling one of the sexiest gadgets of this
year's CeBIT -- a small device that can turn pretty much any flat
surface into a soundboard.
The Soundbug can be plugged into the headphone socket of, for
example, an MP3 player or a walkman, and then fixed by suction to
the flat surface -- effectively turning a desk or window into a
Set to go on sale in the UK for £29.99, the Soundbug -- which is
roughly the same size as a computer mouse -- will be targeted at the
youth market, but it is likely to appeal to a much wider range of
technology users. "We spoke to plenty of children when we were
designing the Soundbug, and they all really wanted to know when
they'd be able to buy one," Richard May, Olympia's president,
told ZDNet UK.
sound quality achieved by Soundbug is impressive, especially when
the device is attached to a thick piece of a dense material -- such
as a desk. It's even possible to daisy-chain two Soundbugs together
to achieve stereo sound, even when both are stuck to the same
The Soundbug was developed in partnership with Newlands Scientific,
a commercial research company that was spun off from Hull
University. The Soundbug transmits the sound to the flat surface by
way of a small piece of Terfenol, which is a mixture of rare earth
metals and iron. This substance is placed within an aluminium case,
around which is wrapped a coil.
Passing electricity through the coil causes the piece of Terfonal to
slightly expand, resulting in a force of 400 pounds, explained
Newlands Scientific managing director Brian Smith. Once attached to
a flat surface, Soundbug will transmit electronic signals into
mechanical energy -- causing the flat surface to vibrate and
broadcast the sound.
told ZDNet UK that there are many exciting applications for this
technology, which is called magnetostriction. In theory, it could
create noise-insulating windows that could block out the sound of
traffic. Olympia also demonstrated a mobile phone version of
Soundbug, that will be aimed at business workers. The device can be
stuck to a car windscreen, meaning that drivers can have a
hands-free conversation without having to wear a headset. It could
be on sale by the end of this summer, and May is aiming for a price
of £49.99. A high-end conference phone version is also being
developed that would mean everyone seated around a table would be
able to hear the phone conversation equally clearly.
For now, though, the focus is on the launch of Soundbug next month.
"We're hoping that Soundbug will be the number one product on
childrens' Christmas present list," said May. If Olympia is
that successful, the Soundbug could even become a bit of a pest.
"Just imagine what the school bus could be like," grinned
"Today's multigigahertz chips demand a constant stream of data,
and the aging PCI and AGP bus standards won't be fast enough at
shuttling data between your PC's components. That's why Intel is
developing a third-generation input/output interconnect
specification, code-named Arapahoe, that's up to ten times quicker
than today's fast PCI-X bus. PCI-X moves data in parallel along 64
wires, reaching a top speed of about 1GB per second. Arapahoe can
employ from 1 to 32 lanes; each lane consists of a pair of wires and
can shuffle more than 200MB of data per second between the CPU and
add-in cards or integrated parts. Arapahoe can also prioritize data,
so that, for example, real-time streaming data is processed faster.
When's it coming? Early 2004.
What's the catch? PC makers will have to support both standards as
systems make the transition to Arapahoe, which may increase PC