New car interiors are laced with speakers and microphones to support increasingly complex audio systems and voice recognition features. Now Harman wants to put this hardware on the outside of cars as well.

At CES in Las Vegas, the Samsung-owned automotive supplier unveiled a sound and vibration sensor and microphone designed to be embedded in a vehicle’s exterior. They’re sensitive enough to detect emergency vehicle sirens or the speech from other drivers or traffic cops, as well as glass breakage and other sounds from crashes, Harman said in a press release.

Harman external speakerHarman external speaker

The hardware includes a weatherproofed microphone designed to pick up speech from people outside the car, and a piezo-based sensor that can detect sound and vibration, converting the pressure generated into voltage.

Harman said the sensor could be “invisibly” integrated with a vehicle’s exterior, but did not announce any automaker partners ready to use the tech. External sound detection was designed to complement Harman’s new Ready Vision head-up display, which was also unveiled at CES and incorporates audio alerts to warn drivers of impending danger more quickly.

Harman external sound and vibration sensorHarman external sound and vibration sensor

Thinner and smaller audio hardware makes features like this possible, and Harman isn’t the only company developing it. Ahead of CES, LG unveiled its Thin Actuator Sound Solution technology, with speakers only millimeters thick. Each speaker is roughly the size of a passport and weighs just 1.4 ounces, according to LG.

Audio systems weigh a lot, and weight is the enemy of efficiency and performance in a car. At the 2020 CES, automotive supplier Continental and audio company Sennheiser even proposed a speaker-less audio system, although that concept hasn’t reached commercialization yet.

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