As technological innovation continues to accelerate at breakneck speed, electronic waste production is piling up. In a search to help mitigate this refuse buildup, a group of TU Delft students teamed up to create a fully recyclable home audio system: a speaker made from glass, which earned them a national first-place award for the 2020 James Dyson Award.
As innovation continues to accelerate, the demand for next-generation appliances and devices is at an all-time high, leaving hard to recycle and nearly impossible to upgrade electronics falling by the wayside – exacerbating the problem of waste buildup and environmental damage. This is where a group of six industrial design engineering (IDE) students from Delft University of Technology looked to join the fray. Their motivation came in the form of the James Dyson Award brief, which simply asked participants to “Design something that solves a problem.”
Challenge accepted. Their idea for submission: a new and sustainable home audio speaker system, made from highly recyclable materials and easily repairable. To make it truly innovative, however, the students turned to local Yes!Delft startup Denoize for a unique solution to amplify sound through vibrating glass.
At first glance, the Denoize smart-glass system probably may not seem like a logical fit. The entire premise behind the Delft-based startup is to provide soundproofing by counteracting and eliminating sound waves that vibrate particles in glass – in this case, windows – which are then perceived as noise on the inside.
To achieve this, Denoize places piezo-based sensors and actuators in the window frame that measure the incoming waves and then uses computer algorithms to precisely counter the vibrations, actively canceling the noise – much in the same way noise-canceling headphones operate. With this system of measuring and countering the vibrations, Denoize’s smart-glass solution can offer up to a 90 percent noise reduction in low-range frequencies (0 to 1,000 Hz), which account for most of the everyday noise pollution people experience while inside.
By flipping Denoize’s technological innovation around, The TU Delft students wanted instead to generate sound from the vibrating glass. Their solution: Ammos – a home speaker that uses a similar set of actuators to vibrate a thin pane of glass to amplify sound. With the use of the glass, the speaker can produce mid-to-high frequencies (200-20,000 Hz). By then adding a small subwoofer to Ammos’ base, the home audio system can produce frequencies between 20 and 200 Hz, giving the speaker a full spectrum of sound.
For the IDE students, the design was as much the focus as the function. Yes, the novelty of using glass to make sound is cool, but the recyclability and reusability was a key factor in using it for the design. With sustainability in mind, the Ammos team wanted to further adopt green and eco-friendly materials, like bamboo, aluminum and natural rubber, while avoiding the use of rare metals and glues found in other modern electronics.
Additionally, to help solve the electronic-waste problem, the design had to focus on ease of use and repairability. To make it useful, the students added Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as a USB-C and 3.5 mm audio and power cable support as inputs – appealing to a broad range of potential users. Best yet, instead of throwing out the speaker to buy a new, it was developed to be easily disassembled and repaired using a single screwdriver to remove only six screws.
Their efforts in innovation and design, helped by the durability and sustainability of high-quality components and “timeless design,” earned the James Dyson Award judges’ praise and netted a first-place victory for the TU Delft team – crowning them national winners of the innovation award in the Netherlands.