×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Harman Wants to Use Robotic Speakers to Make VR Sound More Real

Get ready for robotic speakers to whizz around in your living room while you are having fun in virtual reality: Samsung subsidiary Harman got a patent awarded this week to map sounds from virtual reality (VR) games and experiences to one or more robotic speakers.

The patented technology is meant to deal with a shortcoming of traditional speaker systems for VR: They just don’t work that well for spatial audio.

“Audio content that is outputted via static audio devices may not accurately represent the virtual environment and/or virtual objects included in the virtual environment,” the patent reads in part. “For example, sounds outputted by stationary speakers may not accurately reflect the distance, direction, and/or motion between the user and a virtual object included in the virtual environment.”

As a remedy for this, Harman is looking to map VR soundscapes to robotic speakers, and then move them around in a room. According to the patent, this could reproduce a wide range of acoustic phenomenons, including objects emitting sounds themselves, as well as walls that sound can bounce off, physical obstructions that can absorb sound, and more.

“The audio that the user hears matches more closely with user expectations for the audio based on what the user sees in the virtual reality content,” according to the patent. “Consequently, the audio facilitates a more immersive virtual reality experience.”

However, the system is not necessarily meant to reproduce every sound. One example mentioned in the patent is inner monologue in narrative VR experiences. From the patent: “Speech from a character may be more suitable for output via a robotic speaker (…) than speech corresponding to an inner monologue from the user representation, because a sense of space and distance is generally not required for an inner monologue.”

The patent goes into some detail about ways to track the position of robotic speakers in the room, and ways to position the speakers themselves. Turns out these devices don’t necessarily need to drive around on four wheels, with Harman researchers envisioning anything from one-wheelers to “a hovering mobility platform based on co-axial rotors, multi-rotors (e.g., quadcopters), or vertical gas jet based propulsion mobility platforms.”

Does this mean that VR users will soon have an army of speaker drones buzzing around their heads? Not necessarily. First, it’s worth pointing out that companies patent technologies all the time that don’t end up becoming real products. One could also make the case that a lot of these issues could be solved much easier with smart spatial sound and a good pair of headphones.

However, as location-based virtual reality evolves to become a sort of high-tech amusement park, it’s easy to imagine that companies like The Void may one day not just use physical props, but also spatially mapped audio playing from real speakers to create immersive entertainment experiences. And who knows: Maybe this future will even involve robotic speakers that reposition themselves to make virtual worlds sound more real.

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • Still from "Andhadhun"

    Microsoft Streaming Deal Lifts Shares in India’s Eros

    Shares of leading Bollywood film distributor Eros International soared by 38% on Thursday following news of the company’s link up with Microsoft to develop a new generation of video streaming platform. The multinational company said that its Eros Now video operation would work with Microsoft Azure to develop its technology in three ways. They seek [...]

  • Comcast X1 DAZN

    Comcast Adds DAZN Sports-Streaming Service to Xfinity Flex, Sets Launch on X1

    DAZN, the digital sports service headed by ex-ESPN boss John Skipper, is now available to Comcast broadband customers on Xfinity Flex and will be available on Xfinity X1 this fall. It’s the first distribution deal for DAZN with a major U.S. provider since it debuted the combat-sports-oriented service in the States a year ago. In [...]

  • YouTube logo

    YouTube Raises Bar for Channel Verification, Stripping Some Creators of Verified Status

    YouTube is making it harder for channels to receive a verification badge indicating their authenticity — and the program’s new requirements mean that some channels won’t be eligible for verification. Like other internet platforms, YouTube indicates to viewers that specific channels are officially run by the creator, artist, celebrity or company they represent with an [...]

  • BuzzFeed - Katie Sitter

    BuzzFeed Taps Activision Blizzard's Katie Sitter as Head of HR (EXCLUSIVE)

    BuzzFeed hired Katie Sitter, most recently an HR exec at Activision Blizzard, as senior VP of people. Sitter, who starts at the company Sept. 30, will lead the BuzzFeed HR organization and oversee strategic initiatives related to organizational planning, talent acquisition, learning and development, performance management, compensation and benefits, labor relations, and diversity, equity, and [...]

  • Kano

    Kano Tipped to Launch ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Frozen’ Coding Kits

    Educational consumer electronics startup Kano is getting ready to release “Star Wars” and “Frozen” coding kits, according to regulatory filings. Recent FCC filings made by the company reveal plans to release a product called “The Force Coding Kit” as well as one called “The Disney Frozen Coding Kit.” Kano representatives didn’t respond to multiple requests [...]

  • Apple Arcade

    Apple Officially Launches Apple Arcade Game Subscription Service

    Apple officially cut the ribbon for its new game subscription service Thursday: Priced $4.99 per month, Apple Arcade offers unlimited access to over 100 exclusive games. Apple Arcade was released alongside iOS 13, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system. Some of the titles available through the subscription package include “Lego Brawls” from Lego [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content