In the not-too-distant future, you may be riding the subway and find yourself overwhelmed by a blast of Lady Gaga. But "Poker Face" isn't blaring through the subway's PA system: It's coming from a tweenager's baggy pants. No, not a clip-on MP3 player -- the pants themselves are what's causing the racket. And you may have to ask him politely, "Please, please ... turn down your jeans."
Whether the idea frightens or excites you, speakers really will be integrated into clothes. And it won't stop there. You'll hear The Roots thumping from hoodies and The Grateful Dead wafting from backpacks everywhere. Maybe someone will even make a cowboy hat that plays George Strait.
It's all thanks to speakers like those from Taiwan Electrets Electronics Corporation (TEEC), which demonstrated its Electrets-Electrostatic Flexible Loudspeakers (EFLs) at the 2012 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. EFLs are thin and flexible so that manufacturers can integrate into all sorts of funky and functional products: tablet PC and iPad carrying cases, pillows, standalone portable speakers, artwork and much, much more.
For example, a sweatshirt might feature a hood with a sewn-in speaker that wraps all the way around your head. In one pocket you'd have a receiver, and in the other, an MP3 player with Bluetooth. Hit play and your music zips wirelessly from your music player to the receiver, which sends its signal to your speakers, and suddenly, your hoodie is a portable amphitheater.
EFLs are extremely svelte, with a thickness of only a few millimeters, depending on the final product's needs. They're also flexible, so you can bend them repeatedly without worrying about damage. And they're so lightweight that you won't notice them adding heft to your backpack. Just as important, they are seriously low power devices, requiring only 0.1 W, or 90 percent less power than traditional portable speakers. That means you won't need to strap a car battery to your pack to power your hoodie's musical awesomeness.
You can't waltz into an electronics store and buy these EFLs off the shelf; TEEC works only with product manufacturers. Together, the companies partner on product design and engineering so that the speaker will offer maximum benefit with minimum hassle.
From pillows to pants, there's no product that's safe now from the ubiquitous digital music revolution. Keep reading to see just how these floppy speakers work.