New metamaterial can differentiate between various sounds similar to how our brains choose what to hear

08/18/2015 - 14:32

Duke University engineers have invented a device that emulates the “cocktail party effect” — the remarkable ability of the brain to home in on a single voice in a room with voices coming from multiple directions.

The device uses plastic metamaterials — the combination of natural materials in repeating patterns to achieve unnatural properties — to determine the direction of a sound and extract it from the surrounding background noise.

“We think this could improve the performance of voice-activated devices like smartphones and game consoles while also reducing the complexity of the system,” said Abel Xie, a PhD student in electrical and computer engineering at Duke and lead author of the paper.


Single-sensor “cocktail party listening” with acoustic metamaterials. PNAS (2015) | DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1502276112