Bose Goes Beyond Sound

If you think about “Bose,” then something related to audio—be it noise-cancelling headphones, speakers, or a Wave radio—undoubtedly comes to mind.

It does for us. Or at least it did. Until we learned about Bose ( and seating.

Now, it should be noted that when it comes to Bose Automotive Systems and audio systems, seats do come into play. For example, one of the company’s latest developments is called “Bose Aware signal steering technology.” This works with Bose “UltraNearfield” headrest speakers for both music and non-entertainment content.

This is particularly useful (and is something that is so remarkable as to be one of those things that you wonder why it hasn’t been invented before) when getting announcements from a navigation system or alerts from something like a blind-spot detection system.

If you are supposed to turn left, for example, the voice of the navigation system seems to come from right over your left shoulder. If there is a warning for the blind-spot system, the sound seems to come from the backseat on whichever side the object is detected.

But back in the early 1980s, the late Dr. Amar Bose, then an MIT professor (he received his doctorate there in 1956 in electrical engineering; his thesis is titled “A Theory of Nonlinear Systems”) who started the company that carries his name in 1964, started “Project Sound,” which was not about what you probably think.

Rather, Project Sound was aimed at improving automotive . . . suspension systems.

Jim Parison, a Bose Corp. Distinguished Engineer, says that he’s been with the company for some 30 years. He figured that he'd be working on loudspeakers. But he’s become the lead engineer on the Bose Ride system.

Suspensions, not sound.

Parison explains that the Bose Ride system, which was introduced in 2010 for heavy-duty truck applications, is somewhat similar to an electromagnetic speaker in that it is based on vibrations. But in the case of the Bose Ride system, which is located under the driver’s seat, there are sensors (accelerometers and a position sensor) that detect road-induced vibrations hundreds of times per second, algorithms that run on a ruggedized computer within the under-seat structure, and a proprietary electromagnetic motor that positions the seat so as to counteract the vibrations. This is a one-axis system that’s been used in Class 8 trucks with great results for the past several years.

Marc Mansell, vice president of Bose Automotive Systems, makes a point about driving and riding in autonomous vehicles that doesn’t garner much attention: the people in the vehicle are likely going to want to be doing something like reading or writing and chances are the road surfaces are not going to be any smoother than they are today.

So Bose engineers have developed a multi-axis Bose Ride system that has applicability in a range of vehicles, including passenger cars. By measuring the vibrations and then counteracting them, the system significantly smooths the ride.

(We had the chance to have the system demonstrated in a Sprinter. The chauffeured vehicle was driven over various surfaces with the system on and off and we were asked to do tasks like trying to connect dots with a stylus on a tablet device. To use a non-spatial metaphor: the difference was night and day. One was the scrawl of a caveman and the other was, while not exactly Art Center-like in execution, still a whole lot more smooth.)

As OEMs pursue autonomous vehicles, this Bose technology is something that they need to take into account.—GSV