AUDIO SOFTWARE can create the illusion that the sounds from a pair of computer speakers are coming from anywhere around a listener's head. The technology has been incorporated into audio chips and game consoles and may someday enhance cellular-phone conversations. Image: SAMUEL VELASCO
Lying on a beach at Devon on the south coast of England in 1990, Alastair Sibbald had a curious thought. He could hear the seagulls in front of him over the sea and the sheep behind him on the cliffs, each separate and distinct. How was it, he wondered, that he could place these sounds so accurately in space? And could a computer program replicate this three-dimensional aural experience?
Now Sibbald has the answers. As chief scientist at Sensaura, a company based in Middlesex, England, he has spent the past decade developing software that acts like a digital ventriloquist. Sensaura's programs enable ordinary computer speakers, television sets and headphones to create the illusion that sounds are coming from anywhere around a listener's head. The technology has been incorporated into the audio chips used in tens of millions of personal computers. Last November the Royal Academy of Engineering recognized the magnitude of Sensaura's accomplishment by giving the company the MacRobert Award, Britain's most prestigious engineering prize.
This article was originally published with the title Surrounded by Sound.