Thursday Tech: Mainlining Radio

Some people joke that they listen to NPR so much, they want it fed directly into their brains. Don't worry. We're working on it.

Joe Mills is one of our audio engineers. Over the last 30 years, he's seen a lot of cool technologies come and go... mostly go: vinyl records, reel-to-reel tape, DAT recorders, Mr. Microphone...

So what's next? Mills says we are not that far away from implantable audio devices... chips that take advantage of bone resonance (PDF). Here's an experiment you can try at home that demonstrates this principle: Grab a tuning fork (not a salad fork), strike it and hold it up to the bone behind one of your ears. The sound will seem as if it's coming from the middle of your head.

Bone resonance technology is already being played with. There was the Bone Fone, which supposedly allowed you to listen to music without bugging anyone else. And the Japanese have invented a cell phone that uses bone resonance so you can hear in noisy rooms. Then there are cochlear implants, a technology that's used to restore hearing in some deaf people.

Mills says implantable audio devices will trickle down from the medical field to the consumer audio world very soon... making it socially acceptable to say you hear voices in your head.

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