INVENTOR WINS $500,000 LEMELSON-MIT
FOR REVOLUTIONIZING ACOUSTICS
PORTLAND, OR (April 18, 2005) — The next time you
think you hear voices in your head, you may be right, thanks to
Elwood “Woody” Norris. This week, Norris will receive
the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for numerous important inventions,
including HyperSonic Sound®, which enables sound to be targeted
to an individual listener.
“Woody Norris is a classic independent inventor. His curiosity
is unbounded and spans many fields,” said Merton Flemings,
director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, which sponsors the annual
Norris will receive the award this Friday, April 22, during the
11th annual Lemelson-MIT Awards Ceremony, being held at the Oregon
Museum of Science and Industry in Portland.
SOUND WAVES OF THE FUTURE
Norris, the son of a coal miner who had only a third grade education,
grew up in a family that struggled to make ends meet. The family’s
only luxury was a radio, which at the age of 8 Norris took apart
to learn how it worked and produced sound. From that moment, he
became captivated with electronics and made a hobby out of taking
More than 30 years after tinkering with the family’s radio,
Norris continues to be fascinated by how sound works. His HyperSonic
Sound (HSS®) invention is said to be the first big improvement
in acoustics since the loudspeaker was invented 80 years ago. Norris
first filed a patent for HSS in 1996 and received it three years
later in 1999. In 2002, the first commercial version of the device
According to Norris, improvements to sound projection were deemed
too expensive and, therefore, not attempted. He overcame this challenge
by applying a simple analogy to his work — if televisions
work by mixing three colors to make millions, could he mix sound
frequencies to create crisp, clean sound that could travel farther?
HSS allows for ultrasonic waves to be created at more than 50,000
cycles per second, which keeps them in a focused beam and above
the range of human hearing. As the ultrasonic waves mix in the air,
the frequencies break down so they can be heard. By simply stepping
into the “beam,” an individual can hear the sound as
if it were generated inside his or her head.
“When Thomas Edison first invented the light bulb, it revolutionized
what we saw. We quickly learned how to focus light, creating hundreds
of applications including television, computers, movies —
many of the things we take for granted,” Norris explains.
“Turn on a loudspeaker and the sound goes everywhere; just
like the first light bulb shed light everywhere. HSS is a way to
target sound the way we focus light.”
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TURNING IT UP A NOTCH
Today, American Technology Corporation, the public company Norris
founded in 1980, is working with hundreds of companies to develop
applications of HSS in automobiles, grocery stores, airports, museums,
fast-food restaurants and theme parks.
“Thousands of innovative ideas and products are pitched
yearly to the automotive companies … [and] only a fraction
of [them] ever make it to the serious stages of commercialization,”
C.W. Edgar, Senior Manager of the Chrysler group at DaimlerChrysler,
wrote in a recommendation letter. “[Norris’] HyperSonic
Sound technology invention was one of those once-in-a lifetime technologies.
HSS has the ability to profoundly change the audio experience of
the automotive occupant.”
Most recently, American Technology Corporation has been working
with the United States Department of Defense on a project that uses
focused sound as a long-range hailing and warning device to determine
intent and protect troops and local innocents. Long Range Acoustic
Device, or LRAD, an off-shoot of HSS, is a directional sound device
that can be used both as a warning and a non-lethal weapon system.
The device can pinpoint verbal commands from more than 500 yards
away, as well as create a sound at 120 decibels, which can disable
DREAMS TAKE FLIGHT
Norris’ newest project is a unique personal flying craft
called the AirScooter®, which has been in development since
Described as the real-life version of Star Wars’ flying
pods, the AirScooter weighs less than 300 pounds, qualifying it
as an ultra-light recreational vehicle. New and innovative four
stroke engine technology was invented to enable this product. Due
to its light weight, the AirScooter does not require a special operating
license, which means almost anyone can learn to fly.
In addition to HSS and the AirScooter, Norris holds 47 patents,
with more than 100 issued or pending patents worldwide. Some of
his other inventions include Flashback®, the first digital recording
technology, and an ear-mounted speaker/microphone that evolved into
the worldwide Jabra headset product family. Norris also developed
a transcutaneous Doppler system, which was a precursor of sonogram
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Norris finds inspiration everywhere he looks, and he passes that
sense of inspiration on to students and other aspiring inventors.
“There are classes to inventing. It isn’t limited
to science and technology. Writers, actors, cooks and artists are
all inventors,” Norris explains. “People need to be
encouraged to go out there and pursue the fields that will help
them create the wonderful things they are capable of achieving.”
To that end, Norris plans to use the Lemelson-MIT Prize money
to establish a Foundation to help struggling independent inventors.
ALSO BEING HONORED…
In addition to honoring Norris' achievements, the Lemelson-MIT
Program will award the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement
Award at this week’s ceremony.
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ABOUT THE $500,000 LEMELSON-MIT PRIZE
The $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the largest single cash prize
for invention in the United States, is awarded to an individual
who demonstrates remarkable inventiveness and creativity, and a
proven commitment to inspiring others. A distinguished panel of
scientists, technologists, engineers and entrepreneurs selects the
The most recent winners of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize include
Nick Holonyak Jr., who developed the first red light-emitting diode
(LED); Leroy Hood, whose DNA sequencer made possible the Human Genome
Project; Dean Kamen, most popularly known for the Segway™
Human Transporter; and Raymond Kurzweil, who invented the first
musical synthesizer and the first reading machine for the blind.
ABOUT THE LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM
The Lemelson-MIT Program provides the resources and inspiration
to make invention and innovation more accessible to today’s
youth. It accomplishes this mission through outreach activities
and annual awards, including the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the
largest single award in the United States for invention.
Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the world’s most prolific inventors,
and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation,
a private philanthropy that uses its resources to inspire, encourage
and recognize inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, with a growing
emphasis on those who harness invention for sustainable development
where the needs are greatest. More information is online at http://web.mit.edu/invent/.
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