S3i Sound gets national award
The electronics industry is singing the praises of a technology that can make windows whisper, tables talk and planters sing.
Sound Without Speakers, a technology developed by Ames-based S3i Sound, received the Innovations 2004 Design and Engineering Award at the International Consumer Electronics Show held Jan. 8-11 in Las Vegas.
With more than 110,000 people attending, the CES is billed as the world’s largest annual consumer electronics event. The award recognizes products that have “raised the standard of consumer electronic innovation.”
S3i’s patented technology, known as Terfenol-D, allows any solid surface to be transformed into a speaker by converting an audio signal into a vibration that can be transferred to a wall, window, table or other object.
“We are very excited about the CES award for the opportunity to get sales initiated,” said Hal Fallert, S3i’s president and chief executive. The award has caught the ear of some national media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal and Sky Radio, he said.
“We have initiated a very active launch cycle,” he added. “We have a number of products packaged and ready to go into the marketplace.”
Among the applications the company is marketing are its OmniVox, a device geared to business presentations, and Whispering Windows, a device which produces sound on a glass window for use in advertising or sporting events. It even sells a device that turns a hanging planter into an outdoor speaker.
In October 2003, S3i’s Whispering Windows application was installed on the glass of the skyboxes at Jack Trice Stadium at Iowa State University, which became the first athletic facility to install the technology. It’s also being used by a major computer retailer in New York City as an advertising tool to attract customers into its showroom, Fallert said.
S3i Sound was formed in 2002 as a joint venture of Edge Technologies Inc. of Ames and Philippines-based Dai-ichi Electronics Manufacturing Corp. The products are being manufactured in Ames by Etrema Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Edge Technologies.
The technology was developed by Stephen Saint Vincent, who adapted acoustic technologies used in naval sonar applications while working at Etrema. He is now S3i’s vice president of technology.
Fallert joined S3i in June 2003 after leaving his position as vice president of operations of Des Moines-based Kemin Foods L.C.
“Mine was a lifelong ambition to be involved in a start-up company,” he said. “I looked at a number of opportunities before I decided to join S3i. Kemin is a super company to work for, but it was one of those things where I decided if I was going to have this opportunity, I was going to have to look for it.”
By leveraging Etrema’s existing manufacturing capabilities, S3i has been able to offer its products at relatively low prices. The OmniVox sells for $300 per unit, for instance. The company sells its products on its Web site, www.s3isound.com, as well as through a number of distributors.
Fallert expects the privately held company will achieve “positive income” this year. The technology has its own niche, he said.
“We’re not seeking to compete with current speaker technology,” he said. “We’re looking to complete the audio experience for the consumer. So we try to place our products in places where conventional audio products may not fit. We’re not seeing it as competitive; we’re seeing it as complementing existing technology.”