Family arguments about what music or radio station to listen to on long car journeys could soon be a thing of the past. A stereo system that creates isolated bubbles of sound around occupants of a vehicle is being developed by Ford. It means that while the driver might be listening to football commentary on the radio, a passenger beside them can enjoy music or sit in silence.
The technology uses speakers around each seat to produce each person’s choice in sound. But to avoid a cacophony, the technology behind the system can isolate each person in their own “audio zone”. It can also be used to cancel out other background noises, like the sound of the engine, the road rushing past or the blast from air conditioning.
Ford says in a patent application: “In addition to engine sounds and road rumble, other unwanted noises can include wind noise and sounds from other vehicle occupants.” The technology uses a set of microphones around each seat to detect unwanted noises. And directional speakers then create “anti-noise” sound waves to cancel them out.
The patent suggests that the system could not only be used in a normal family-sized car, but could also be used in larger forms of transport like minibuses or even large coaches. A control unit in front of each seat could be used to help the occupant choose what to hear. “Each user interface comprises an engine sound control and a cabin noise control for adjusting an audio output provided to the corresponding audio zone,” the patent says. But while the technology may be welcomed by many drivers, some fear it could kill the art of conversation on car journeys.