This month, Sonare Technologies, a newly formed Herman Miller company, plans to introduce something called "Babble" to 40,000 or so architects, designers and other trade professionals at NeoCon, the contract furniture industry's major trade show, held annually in Chicago.
About the size of a clock radio and no more forbidding to operate, Babble is a voice privacy device that makes it possible for people to have confidential telephone conversations in their cubicles - and not be overheard by their family of coworkers. Or at least, not be heard in a voice that is decipherable.
"It multiplies your voice. I think that's a good way of characterizing it," said Bill DeKruif, president of Sonare Technologies, which is based in Chicago. "It randomizes your voice and sends your randomized voice out with your natural voice (that's speaking) and the combination of those voices is impossible to decipher."
More simply put, the Babble machine turns your voice into a small group of people, each of whom has your voice.
"It works on the premise that the human brain tunes into single voices. We can't decipher multiple streams of information," said DeKruif, who is an electrical engineer by training with a master's degree in management and who spent a good portion of his career at Motorola and Dell Inc.
Babble also works by complex computer technologies and a sophisticated algorithm. But it was designed to be a simple desktop device. It is composed of a small main unit that attaches to a person's phone (via a jack) and two tiny speakers that get placed within the cubicle.
Unlike white noise or acoustic tiles, which dilute or dampen sound, Babble addresses the issue of privacy head-on, by zeroing in on individual voices. Sonare's target markets for Babble include the health-care industry (such as doctor's offices and admitting areas of hospitals); law firms; research firms and any place where sensitive information is conveyed.
Home offices may not have been one of those key targets, but DeKruif said there has been "surprising" early interest from home-based businesses.
Photos: Herman Miller