Project Sound

12–5–16, Lefko

For a little more than 20 years, Bose had been working on a top-secret project they dubbed “Project Sound.” Released a couple years ago (in 2004, IIRC), the consumer product was renamed to the “Bose Suspension System”…and — despite being a technological breakthrough — was a spectacular failure.

What in the fuck is it? Glad you ask.

In order to do this justice, we need some background.

Part I: Who was Dr. Amar Bose? A fucking legend, that’s who. The man was a brilliant engineer with universities drooling at the thought of hiring him, only for them to be thwarted each time by his dedication to research rather than teaching. It wasn’t until MIT okey-doke’d him, yolo signed him up as a faculty member, and scheduled classes for him unbeknownst to him that he finally gave in to teaching.

Fortunately, this is where his passion for invention and innovation really began to thrive. He began recruiting colleagues from MIT to a company that he founded, where they would spend the days working on their government contract research and the nights building cool shit. Their first invention, a 1/8 sphere-shaped speaker designed for the corner of a room, was a total flop. After this, Bose literally locked himself in his house for two weeks and emerged with designs for dope new high-fidelity desktop speakers, which were a huge hit.

Bose was known for finding inspiration in unusual places and working incessantly until he had a solution to a problem. Another such example was on a flight to Boston. He was disappointed with the quality of the little earpieces they were given to listen to announcements. On that flight he dreamed of noise-cancelling headphones, and he had the equations completed by the time he landed. 15 years and $50 million later, they created the first noise-cancelling headphones. Multiple people quit the company during the R&D process, and Bose was baffled as to why. After one of his colleagues told him how much he spent on the development, his response was “50 million!?!? If this was a publicly traded company I would’ve been fired years ago…” He was proud.

So, what do we know about Bose? He was a Steve Jobs of the audio world, to put it crudely. He was wildly imaginative and incredibly driven.

Part II: How do car suspension systems work? I don’t know details, nor would I want to explain in detail, but here’s a gif of what’s going on:

…and here’s what it looks like in practice:

See the body of the car bouncing around? Bose wasn’t happy with that, and he knew how to fix it.

Part III: Let’s bring it all together, in Project Sound. Bose had a hard-on for all things waves, and one such application he foresaw was in car suspension systems. He had a dream of using magnets and motors to predict and counteract the forces that a car endures while driving.

As we saw above, conventional suspensions use springs and shocks to compensate for bumps and turns. The compression and response of the shocks are entirely defined by the road surface. Bose began developing an active suspension technology which used magnets and motors to react to road inputs and driving forces.(Of note: this is called an “active suspension,” which has been around since 1989 with Infiniti offered the first version on its Q45 sedan, only it was not as “smart” and did not use electromagnetism, so it was not as smooth.)In Bose’s invention, an onboard computer detected body movement from sensors throughout the vehicle and, using data calculated by control techniques, controlled the action of the suspension. The system virtually eliminated body roll and pitch variation in many driving situations including cornering, accelerating, and braking. They took a stock Lexus and compared it to a Lexus with the added suspension system to demonstrate this black magic… (note: I highly recommend watching this video with the full demonstration of the car because it’s amazing. Regardless, I’ve attached some demonstrative pics and gifs below)

Here they are going around turns:

On a traditional “bumpy road” setup:

Bose even threw in a dope feature that let the car literally jump over hurdles at high speeds. Check this shit out:

Other earlier models of active suspensions used non-magnetic shocks, like hydraulic servos, actuators, solenoids, etc…why the drastic shift? The amazing part about this suspension system is that they were able to utilize the rebound of the suspension from the motor as a generator for itself, drastically cutting the energy consumption.

Ultimately, the product didn’t sell because it was too big and heavy to fit into cars at the time without significantly changing the design. Bose was able to repurpose the project, however, into an adaptive seat for truck drivers called the Bose Ride system.

Finally, you might be wondering, why Project SOUND? Where’s the audio? There is none. Amar was a troll and wanted to fuck with people. The name was supposed to be a confusing distraction from the top-secret details of the project.


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