Google Bought a Company That Turns Displays Into Speakers

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As they do from time to time, Google has acquired another technology startup. This time, it’s a British company called Redux that’s figured out, after twenty years, how to turn screens into speakers.

Redux has been developing its “panel audio” system since 1997, and they’ve got nearly 200 related patents on the books. How did they turn a display into a speaker? By hiding a unique array of actuators underneath.

A phone or a tablet with Redux audio hardware onboard wouldn’t need any openings for speakers or an earpiece. That could make it much simpler to build waterproof devices.

There is, however, speculation that Google wasn’t really after the technology that Redux developed but rather the employees who created it. Then again, CES 2018 just wrapped up and one particular piece of gadgetry that was there seems like an ideal application for a sound-producing display.

At least two of Google’s OEM partners — LG and Lenovo — were showing off smart displays with Google Assistant integration. Both were very similar to Amazon’s Echo Show, or, you know… pretty much any Android tablet.

With Amazon, Google, Apple, and Microsoft fighting it out for the lion’s share of the voice assistant pie (assuming lions even like pie, but that’s a discussion for another day), any feature or functionality that stands out to consumers could be a difference-maker. Google could be planning to let its partners utilize Redux’ actuator-driven audio tech to help them gain a competitive edge, over Google’s rivals, anyway.

Interestingly, the actuators can do more than turn a display into a speaker. They can also provide tactile feedback. Not just varying intensities of vibration, either. Redux can target specific UI elements, and different sensations can be transmitted to different fingers at the same time.

Google has plenty of potential applications for that sort of thing. Advanced haptics would be a particularly nice fit with Android Auto, as carmarkers continue shifting physical controls on the console to touchscreens.

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