LONDON - A Mercedes-Benz V-class van with door and rear side panels acting as audio speakers was displayed here to show off a hot topic for automakers: thin-speaker technology.
The demonstration at the 'Live '98' trade exhibition at London's Earls Court center was sponsored NXT, a Cambridge, UK, audio company that discovered how to make thin panels that would faithfully reproduce sound to hi-fi standards.
The V-class incorporated six molded interior side panels made by Spanish supplier Groupo Antolin-Irauser SA. These acted as speakers in place of conventional cone devices. Daimler-Benz did not collaborate in the demonstration.
The demonstration showed how a vehicle's own panels - styled and surfaced according to the designer's own specifications - can be turned into speakers, significantly saving weight and space, said NXT managing director Anthony Stevens.
NXT flat panels are already available in laptop computers and as speakers disguised as pictures and ceiling tiles. Incorporating the technology into molded interior panels was the latest development effort, and the one likely to persuade carmakers to consider thin-speaker technology, Stevens said.
Improvements over the past two years in NXT technology have already achieved a dramatic cut in potential production costs, Stevens said, making the price of an NXT system potentially comparable with that of conventional vehicle hi-fi.
The cost of an actuator - the small disc component that 'excites' the panel to vibrate and reproduce sound - had been slashed from $7 to 50 cents, while the cost of a panel, originally put at $2, was now around 42 cents. The economies of scale open to a major carmaker would clearly reduce original equipment costs still further, Stevens said.
Individual automakers are exploring the technology, and one European carmaker is known to be adopting NXT in a forthcoming model.