You're walking down the street and suddenly a voice starts whispering seductively in your ear. "It's a surplus of style . . . Don't you want to chill in the Gap's surplus shorts?" Have you finally lost it and started hallucinating bad ad campaigns speaking inside your head? Nope, you're experiencing a technology that's already been deployed in New York City, where last December the A&E channel advertised its spooky show Paranormal State by broadcasting ads with a device that emits soundwaves you hear only when when those waves hit your body — which makes the sound seem to originate right next to you. Now other advertisers want to get in on the action and start beaming their slogans right into your head.
According to the Canwest News Service:
The technology works by beaming waves of hypersonic sound at a pitch that is undetectable by the human ear. The waves continue until they smash into an object such as a person's body. The waves then slow, mix and re-create the original audio broadcast. If the person steps out of the waves, the waves are no longer obstructed and they are rendered inaudible . . . Using the technology, marketers can target an audio message at one person in a crowd, leaving everyone around that person unaware.
[Joe] Pompei's company [Holosonics] manufactured the technology that A&E used. "That's the main thrust of this technology — delivering sound to a very specific area and preventing noise from going elsewhere."
For example, nightclub-goers could hear music delivered through hypersonic methods, while people living nearby would not hear anything. Similarly, an ambulance using a hypersonic sound siren wouldn't disturb households — only cars in front of the ambulance would be able to hear the siren.
While more high-profile uses of the technology may still be a few years away, Pompei said the A&E marketing initiative has led to a deluge of calls from marketers.
The technology scares some consumer groups, including the U.S.-based Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics, which is raising legal questions about what rights people have when it comes to being forced to listen to audio broadcasts in public.
I like the idea of a nightclub that can only be heard by people dancing in it. Getting ads beamed into my ears? Time to break out the old sound-blocking iPod headphones, suckers.
High Tech Sound Will Be in Your Head [Canada.com]