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Woody Norris: The CEO and chairman of American Technology Corporation talks about breaking sound barriers.

The scenario: You are walking down the personal care aisle at the local supermarket. A new shampoo catches your eye. As you pause to check out the item, a commercial for the product airs. The catch is, no one else in the store hears it.

If Woody Norris gets his way, this could happen soon in a store near you. Norris, CEO of San Diego-based American Technology Corporation (ATC), has figured out a way to tame sound. Although it has been possible to focus radio and light waves for years, sound waves, which radiate in all directions, have proven unruly. Sound just does whatever the hell it wants to, says Norris.

ATCs Hypersonic Sound System (HSS) creates a beam, or cone, of sound that can be directed into someones face or splashed off a wall. You can walk into the sound, just as you might step into a spotlight or into the shower, says Norris. Step back, and it vanishes.

The ability to control sound opens up vast markets. Wal-Mart and McDonalds are among the companies interested in adopting HSS. This is a real breakthrough, says Norris, who invented the precursor of the sonogram. HSS is the first significant enhancement to our ability to create and control sound since the invention of the loudspeaker in 1925. So far, his company holds 15 patents on the system. American Demographics Sandra Yin talked with Norris to sound him out on the future markets for this technology.

AD: Who seems to be most interested in using focused sound?

WN: People who want to promote or advertise a product or brand are the most interested. So are theme parks, movie theaters, supermarkets, restaurants and arcades.

AD: Where might this system be deployed?

WN: Television networks. You can talk to someone on set from offstage or cue an actor who forgot his lines. The New York City Fire Department gets a lot of complaints about their loud sirens. If you could project the sound like a headlight, it could be directed just in front of the truck, so people who are sound asleep somewhere between the station and the fire won't be woken up. It's much like being able to focus light. On a road trip, the parents in the front seats could listen to something different from their kids in the back. Or your mate can be asleep while you watch TV. Cool, huh?

AD: What are the system's benefits?

WN: There are two benefits. Retailers like it because you can multiply how much sound is in a store without its becoming cacophony. Consumers love it too. It's like shining a spotlight on a wall. You move into a little cone of sound, and you hear something. Step backward, and you don't hear anything.

AD: What are some of Hypersonic Sound's most notable traits?

WN: With HSS, sound travels long distances without a drop-off in sound level. At concerts, the music is so loud that the poor guys in the front row have earwax running out of their ears. With HSS, the guy in the front row hears the same thing as the people in the last row. There are a lot of people who want sound to appear at a certain point and then diminish. If you move backward or forward, it dramatically drops off. If you move sideways, the sound completely vanishes.

AD: How soon will we experience HSS?

WN: You'll come into contact with this sound system in lots of public places this fall. Whether you're in a supermarket, an electronics store, an airport or a fast-food restaurant, you'll be exposed to it. By next June, this sound system will turn up in a lot of consumer applications, including computers and surround sound TV.

AD: Where is this technology in use?

WN: Florida Power and Light uses HSS emitters to scare away the thousands of canaries that land on the power lines. People living nearby say the birds' chirping drives them nuts. Beaming the sound of the birds' natural predators, such as geese or owls, at their roosts scares the canaries away from the power lines.

We're also already installed in several aircraft carriers. Because they're all steel, they're like echo chambers. To broadcast a message, they usually have speakers installed every few feet. With HSS, you put one emitter at the end of the corridor. We control how far the sound goes.

AD: How big a market is there for applications like these?

WN: It's a multibillion-dollar opportunity for our company. We can do everything a regular loudspeaker does, and then some. Fifteen billion speakers are sold worldwide. An average car has seven speakers. Every computer has two speakers. The market for conventional loudspeakers is exploding. It's got to be billions of dollars a year. Beyond all that, there's low-hanging fruit, including supermarkets and restaurants. Nobody's tapped those markets yet. Already, some customers are talking about spending $15 to $20 million.

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