Advertisers using 'directed sound' to get in your head
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/19/08
WATERTOWN, Mass. — If you hear mysterious voices in your head the next time you stroll down the street, they may be trying to sell you something.
That was the case recently in New York when people walking beneath a billboard for the A&E show "Paranormal State" suddenly heard a woman's disembodied voice whisper: "Who's there? Who's there?" and "It's not your imagination."
The creepy effect was caused by technology called Audio Spotlight that projects sound in a focused beam so only people in a certain spot can hear it. That "directed sound" system is the work of Joseph Pompei, an engineer who founded Holosonic Research Labs Inc. in Watertown.
"There is an interesting perception of the sound being inside your head," Pompei said.
Thanks to the spread of digital video signs and pressure on advertisers to reach consumers in new ways, the business of directed sound has begun to take off for a handful of companies.
"The idea of directing sound was a real uphill battle when we first started, but all of a sudden people are coming to us saying, 'We have to have directional sound. We don't want all this noise in our store,' " said Woody Norris, founder of American Technology Corp. in San Diego.
Norris sells the HyperSonic Sound system, which uses the same principles as the Holosonic product.
Norris said he has sold many units for use with video screens in checkout lines in Kroger- and Meijer-owned grocery stores so audio can reach waiting customers without constantly bombarding store workers.
Court TV used Audio Spotlight in 2006 in Manhattan bookstores and a few Atlanta locations to promote a murder mystery show.
Customers who tripped a motion sensor would suddenly hear a voice whispering a 30-second message. Part of it said: "Don't turn around. Do you ever think about murder? Committing the ultimate crime? I do. All the time."
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