The geometric shape of a new loudspeaker and its sound...

TECHNOLOGY & COMMUNICATION

September 07, 1992|By Leslie Cauley

The geometric shape of a new loudspeaker and its sound quality were incorrectly characterized in the Technology & Communication column in Monday's business section. The shape of the speaker, developed by Alternity Inc., is a truncated rhombic dodecahedron. Alternity said the use of this geometry has been shown to reduce total harmonic distortion by 5 to 10 decibels and intermodulation distortion by 3 decibels.

The Sun regrets the error.

Firm hopes to hear sweet sound of success

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that if you make a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.

Does that mean if you invent a better sound system, Madonna's production crew will pay you big bucks to use it?

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Alternity Inc., a Pikesville-based acoustical research and development firm, is about to find out.

Alternity has designed a loudspeaker that is a "dramatic improvement" over top-of-the-line professional equipment / currently on the market, says Matthew Robert Kennedy, chairman of Alternity. According to Mr. Kennedy, computer measurements show the Alternity loudspeaker to have up to 10 times less sound distortion than the best conventional loudspeaker that money can buy.

Alternity's secret? Geometry.

The Alternity loudspeaker looks like a giant cube turned inside out. The dimensions of the cube, known as a "rhombic dodecahedron" in geometric lingo, are determined by a mathematical formula worked out by Mr. Kennedy, a math whiz who holds a degree in physics. In this cubed environment,

woofers have less echo to deal with than do their counterparts in conventional loudspeakers, which are typically square or rectangular.

The upshot: Sound comes out clearer with far less distortion.

"The Greeks knew about it," says Mr. Kennedy, referring to the peculiar geometric shape of his patented boom boxes. "But they never found a use for it. Of course, the Greeks didn't have sound systems."

But Madonna does. According to Mr. Kennedy, the company that handles sound production for the rock diva is interested in buying several of the new loudspeakers for use at concerts. Ditto for the Grand Ol' Opry in Nashville, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and several national fast-food chains, all of which have their particular needs for sound systems.

The first Alternity loudspeakers should hit the commercial market this fall. Initial list price: about $850 per speaker.

Alternity hopes to make a run at the consumer market this year with a less expensive loudspeaker that can be hooked up to existing stereos or televisions for instant "surround sound," Mr. Kennedy says. Expected list price: $200 to $500 per speaker.

Hold the ice, please.

Sonya Melissa Talton of Pittsburgh, a senior majoring in electrical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University, is among a group of eight undergraduates at the university recently chosen to participate in independent research projects under the General Electric Foundation's Faculty for the Future Program.

Her project: A self-chilling soda can.

Ms. Talton's design calls for the beverage can to be separated into chambers. One holds the beverage, another, two pouches -- one containing chemicals, the other water. When the contents of the two pouches are mixed, the chemical result is instant cold -- and a chilled beverage.

The idea of a self-chilling can isn't new. Indeed, the prospect of using science to turn lukewarm beverages into frosty treats has crossed the minds of more than one inventor. And not so difficult to achieve in the lab, where creating endothermic -- heat-absorbing -- reactions is considered boilerplate stuff.

So why hasn't the concept of the cold can made it into the public arena before now?

One reason is that the idea of having chemicals -- toxic chemicals -- housed in the same can as a beverage is enough to make even hardened soda freaks pause before they swallow.

Then there's the mechanical problem of manufacturing a can that won't allow chemicals and beverages to mix -- ever, under any circumstances. And it still must include a fail-proof alert system inside every can just in case.

"Contamination is the biggest thing," says Ms. Talton, 22. "The only way to make it marketable is to have a color or odor indicator inside each can so if there is contamination, the consuming public will know it."

Ms. Talton said she is experimenting with several ways to place the chemical and water pouches inside the beverage can to ensure that unintended interactions don't occur.

Ms. Talton believes her self-chilling can would cost only 2-3 cents more than a conventional can to manufacture. The Hopkins senior, who has already applied for a patent, has proven the feasibility of her project in lab trials at Hopkins.

Software program reads the fine print

At a large company, it isn't unusual for employees to have to sift through the fine print on a half-dozen or more health plans, each with its own deductibles, major and minor medical coverage and limitations. Now there's a software program on the market to help ease the benefits blues.

FlexPlanner, a PC-based software program for corporate customers from Towers Perrin, the national human resource management firm, helps employees assess their benefits needs, weigh costs and select among options, including medical, dental, disability and life insurance.

The newly minted software program, which hit the market about two months ago, sells for $15,000 to $30,000, depending on the version.

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