Sound Beams Deliver Targeted Messages

You can hear how it works at the Arlington Central Library

Sometime in the not-so-distant future:

Imagine standing in the checkout line of the local supermarket. As the bread and eggs slide across the conveyer belt, thoughts of which of the 50 things on today’s to-do list should be conquered next are interrupted by the pop of a soda can opening followed by the stream and fizzle of it being poured into a glass.

Is this an announcement over the PA system? Panning around at your fellow shoppers, you quickly get the sense that no one else is hearing what you’re hearing.

Is this invitation to the quench your thirst a message from God? Or maybe you’re just thirsty?

Chances are you’re experiencing HyperSonic Sound, and that tempting noise came from some beverage company’s ad department.

Inventor Elwood “Woody” Norris has given advertisers a new way to pick the pockets of consumers.

HyperSonic Sound is an ultrasound system that focuses sound into a narrow beam audible hundreds of feet away. It is an aural, or audio, laser that works by merging ultrasonic waves to yield an isolated audible tone. It emits sound frequencies above the human ear’s 20,000-cycle threshold. These high-frequency signals, unlike low-frequency waves, do not spread outward as they travel through the air. The result is a beam so accurate that someone standing in its pathway can hear it, but someone just one foot outside of the beam cannot.

It’s an ingenious idea-from a self-taught engineer.

Norris, a 68 year-old Maryland native, is an inventor whose career spans four decades. Creator of the forerunner to the sonogram, Norris holds the patents to dozens of devices. He is CEO of American Technology Corporation, a trendsetter in the field of commercial, military, and security directed sound products, and winner of the 2005 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for his accomplishments as an inventor.

From personal recording gadgets to a personal helicopter to HyperSonic Sound,Norris has joined the ranks of most influential inventors active today.

On Saturday, Norris will be discussing his extensive career and inspirations in a free Smithsonian program at 2 p.m. at the Arlington Central Library.

Norris will answer questions from the audience, and demonstrate HyperSonic Sound and many of his other inventions. His appearance is part of the Innovative Lives program of the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

Arlington Central Library is at 1015 N. Quincy St. in Arlington, Va. Free parking is available at the library, or visitors can take Metrorail’s Orange Line to the Ballston or Virginia Square stations and walk to the library. Admission is free. For more information, call (202) 633-1000 (voice) or (202) 633-5285 (TTY), or visit invention.smithsonian.org