Inflating an air mattress in the Himalayas leads to soundproofing breakthrough

At the Innovation Hangar we strive to maximize the efficiency of our business space, and one of our entrepreneurs, Jim Pilaar, has specifically devised a low-cost, highly-effective dynamic system designed to minimize noise pollution in the workplace. The system is known as ISAT, or Inflatable Sound Attenuation Technology. ISAT is an easy-to-setup, easy-to-break-down mobile wall and ceiling panel system comprised of modern polymers and aluminum frames which can be sculpted to fit almost any office space. It is the world's first inflatable soundproofing, and he calls it AirHush.

 “Essentially we have invented an inflatable diaphragmatic absorber and sound-blocking system, which is made of a see-through material and is very light overall compared to traditional soundproofing materials. Depending on the type of sound one wants to attenuate inside or outside of AirHush structures, different thickness of walls can be inflated, which also makes our ISAT systems into what have been called the world’s first 'tunable walls’”, said Jim, who added that he has two US Patents for the system and more US and international patents pending. “The combination of these materials allows for rapid deployment of soundproofing partitions, walls and full enclosures, which benefit from the temporary rigidity of inflatable structures but can be deflated for shipping and storage at a fraction of their deployment size.”

Jim Gray at work in his prototype AirHush office space.

Jim Gray at work in his prototype AirHush office space.

His launch product is the AirHush Silence Panel, which when inflated is a 24 by 27 inch block. Since it is transparent, light can flow into structures made of these modules, so no additional energy is needed to provide lighting inside AirHush structures. That, along with the reduced shipping volume when deflated (about an inch) makes them very carbon-footprint friendly compared to other forms of soundproofing.

 Jim has been involved in the sound attenuation industry for about a decade now. “Once I had the core idea of what turned out to be the novel concept of inflatable soundproofing, I designed some initial prototypes and was fortunate to discover the idea actually worked very well to soundproof a simple basement music studio,” he said. “After filing for patents I then consulted with soundproofing industry experts and academics in the field of acoustics, and built and tested further prototypes while my patents applications were being considered.”

Getting the word out

Once the patents were issued, Jim approached a leading manufacturer in the acoustic elements industry, Pinta Acoustic, inc., of Munich, Germany and Minneapolis, MN, and they asked for a license to manufacture and distribute the AirHush launch product for one of the many markets in the acoustics realm. AirHush is now seeking additional licensees, customers and investors. To acquire these, Jim is using his recently-launched website, along with Vimeo, where there is an instructional video describing the product. Jim expects the traffic driven to these sites to boost public and investor awareness of his revolutionary technology.

“We are expecting to sign up additional licensees and serve customers in a wide variety of fields such as healthcare, with mobile operating rooms and soundproofing partitions for hospitals, entertainment industry customers such as independent filmmakers, musicians and multimedia producers, along with larger recording and movie studios. Industrial noise control in construction sites is also something we're looking into, as well as high-tech, soundproof ‘clean rooms'. AirHush can also be used educational settings, such as soundproofing in mobile classrooms, and perhaps eventually aviation and transportation fields.”

A suitable background

Jim has long been an entrepreneur who even in his teens aspired to launch his own businesses. His first two were travel companies, and “I spent my teens and twenties in the adventure travel business, largely taking people trekking in the Himalayas. That is when I first became familiar and interested in inflatable structures, such as Avon rafts, Thermarest mattresses, and so on. I learned a lot about the kinds of valves and inflatable structures used on our high altitude expeditions, which has been very useful in my current project. In fact, one of the primary inspirations for creating AirHush came to me on a trekking expedition—my son Jeremy and I were inflating a mattress and it occurred to me that the same kind of technology could be applied to soundproofing.”

Jim and his son Jeremy at Tengboche Monastery Gate in Nepal

What's next for AirHush: working with co-entrepreneurs and bringing AirHush to the public

Jim is not alone in his work on AirHush, with another co-entrepreneur, Elan Rosenman of AudioElixir, sharing the booth to test and further develop his own innovative product, a fully immersive '3D' ambisonic sound system. Rosenman found Jim's AirHush booth perfect for his purposes, and the two effectively share it as an office of sorts. We will post more information about Rosenman's product in the future, so stay tuned.

It took years of strenuous development and tweaking, but Jim’s hard work has come to fruition. AirHush's ISAT systems are now being used in a variety of spaces and purposes, from normal offices to warehouse startups, sound studios and industrial work-sites. The product itself is so revolutionary in concept that he can afford to wage a limited marketing campaign and rely on AirHush's one-of-the-kind personality to sell itself to clients and customers. At the moment he is satisfied with the information available online at the above-mentioned websites, and overall, Jim has nothing but good expectations for the future. The iHangar blog will continue to follow the progression of AirHush, and updates will be posted in the future.

The AirHush office display at the iHangar. It has since been moved to a different location in the building.

The AirHush office display at the iHangar. It has since been moved to a different location in the building.