TEL AVIV — Silence may be golden. But Silentium, maker of computer chip-based solutions to reduce noise, thinks it's better in silicon.
"Silentium is silence in Latin," says Yossi Barath, CEO of the producer of the S-Chip solution. "We put silence in a chip."
The fast-growing company has developed a chip and controller that can be integrated with any number of products. It is looking for a major jump in revenue in the next three years and expects to turn profitable late next year. The tech is already substantially reducing the whirring and roaring generated by computer servers, oven-range hoods and air conditioners.
And for those familiar with the 1960s iconic TV series Get Smart, Silentium is working on a modern version of the "Cone of Silence" — minus the cone. The idea is to enable anyone to sit back in a lounger or airline seat or lie on a pillow in bed, relax and hear next to nothing.
Noise "is one of the major pollutants in our world," Barath says. "People get sick and even die because of noise." Day to day, noise disturbs sleep and concentration and damages hearing.
PUTTING UP BARRIERS
How do we reduce noise right now? One way is barriers, like concert-hall doors or walls that separate roadways from residential areas. Another is absorbent building materials, like ceiling tiles and carpets.
But doors and walls are heavy. And physics says that the lower the frequency, the longer the wavelength and the greater the mass required to reduce noise. "If your neighbor is playing bass guitar or the drums … you can have triple-glazed windows and you'll still hear it," Barath says.
There are also noise-canceling headphones. But most people aren't going to walk around wearing them.
The theoretical offset to noise is called destructive interference. Barath explains that when noise occurs, "if you manage to deliver to that space the same [loudness,] the same frequency of [audio] signal, but with a reversed phase" — effectively a mirror image of the original sound waves — "they interfere with each other and are supposed mathematically to cancel each other."
But complete removal of a noise is not possible. "You are never able to match exactly the original wave with the wave that you are producing," Barath says. Because of the small mismatch, there will be some residual noise left.
If you could generate a solution instantaneously there would be no problem, he says. The challenge lies in predicting how something will sound when the mirror image is sent.
That's where the Silentium S-Chip comes in. The company developed algorithms and related electronics that enable it to predict and kill the noise in real time.
"We go to product makers," Barath says. "We give them our chip or our controller. We give them a tool that enables them to put our (solution) as close as possible to the noise source in their product. … And the product becomes quieter anywhere, in any direction (at) any distance."
Silentium employs 22 people and is headquartered in Rehovot, Israel, 45 minutes south of Tel Aviv. Founded 16 years ago, it has twice started operations and twice rebooted. The current team has largely been in place since 2005 and 2006, says Barath.
Barath, 63, worked with Elbit Computers, an Israeli technology firm. And he founded a spinoff, Elbit Vision Systems, which produces quality-control systems for textiles.
The S-Chip controller
FROM RANGE HOODS TO COMPUTER SERVERS
So where has Silentium integrated its tech?
Faber, the Italian maker of range hoods under its brand and under private labels for other companies, integrates the technology. "Range hoods stop being the most annoying appliance in the room," Barath says.
Another application: Users of computer servers can slide the boxes into Silentium's AcoustiRack and suppress much of the noise they generate. "You can put (a) rack in a corner, put all your servers in it, and we'll be able to have this conversation without being disturbed," Barath notes. The racks are produced by a South Korean firm under a Silentium license.
Silentium is looking for partners to integrate the tech into consumer products.
For the quiet zone — Silentium calls it a Quiet Bubble or QB — the aim is "putting our module into the headrest of a seat … and creating a silent zone around your head," Barath says. Seats in planes, buses, trains and cars are all candidates.
The company is collaborating with aircraft-seat makers to integrate the tech into headrests, possibly combined with the planes' infotainment systems.
Another potential application: "People want to be able to sleep without suffering from environmental ambient noise (and) snoring," Barath notes. "So makers of pillows and headboards might be interested."
And Barath says he's mulling potential patient-comfort applications for hospitals and health care.
On the financial side, Silentium in the next three months hopes to close on a $6 million fund-raising round, with the money largely to be used for business development and marketing. The company's largest shareholder is the Toronto investment firm SMI/Naor; other holders include Terra Venture Partners of Israel, Blue Coast Private Equity of the UK and Heliant Ventures of Australia.
Barath is also hiring: He's looking for a business-development executive to be based at headquarters. And he's seeking technical product managers in the U.S., Europe and Asia to talk with equipment-manufacturers and show them how Silentium can help their products run quieter.
Robert Daniel is an Israel-based financial writer and editor.