Iceland’s Treble Technologies is making a lot of noise by making things sound better
By Elías Thorsson
REYKJAVÍK — REMEMBER THE old aphorism about no-one doing anything about the weather? Well, turn that on its head, and you more or less have the attitude Treble Technologies takes towards the sounds all around us. “Sound is everywhere and studies have shown that it impacts everything from our health and wellbeing to sleep and even productivity,” says Finnur Pind, the firm’s founder and chief executive (pictured above, with long hair). “The quality, or lack thereof, of acoustics influences our daily lives and happiness.”
Reykjavík-based Treble Technologies has quickly established itself as one of the most exciting and innovative start-ups in Iceland, thanks to its VR software that creates a 3D model of a space which allows architects and designers to experience its acoustics. The software is set to launch 1 March, and, last December, in its latest round of financing, the company raised €8 million.
Treble Technologies traces its roots back to 2013, when Mr Pind was studying at DTU, Denmark’s leading technical university. There, he became interested in sound simulation and came up with the idea of making a 3D model of a building or an object and then to use computer calculations to determine its acoustics.
Mr Pind wrote a master’s thesis on the subject in which the first seeds of the software that would become the foundation for Treble Technologies were planted. It wasn’t, however, until his PhD studies at the same university that the company began to take shape.
At that time, Mr Pind and DTU were approached by Henning Larsen Architects, one of Denmark’s most renowned architecture firms, to help it find a way to incorporate acoustical design into the buildings it was designing.
“The issue Henning Larsen kept running into was that too often it was only at the end of the design process — or, in some cases, when the building had already been constructed — that they discovered that the acoustics of a building were terrible. This would lead to costly and time-consuming repairs and changes,” he says.
Working with a team of engineers, mathematicians and physicists, Mr Pind was able to construct a prototype that showed itself capable of simulating acoustics better and faster than anything on the market.
In 2020, following his studies, Mr Pind teamed up with Jesper Pedersen, a fellow acoustic engineer, to found Treble Technologies around the prototype.
“In the beginning we were cautiously optimistic. We knew we had something of quality, but at the time we didn’t quite realise the widespread applicability for the tool,” Mr Pind says. “Things then started to snowball fast and we began working with many big construction, car and tech companies that started utilising our technology to achieve things they had previously struggled with.”
If you aren’t sure if you’ve ever experienced what it’s like when a building sounds bad, think of the stress that office noise can create, or the way a badly designed concert venue can make your hate your favourite artist, or when echoes render even the most expensive sound systems ineffective. Making a building sound good takes both specialisation and skill, but it, first and foremost, requires a recognition of its importance.
“When designing a concert hall, a company hires a deep acoustic specialist, but when a company is designing an office complex, a residential building, a school or hospital or what have you, it is usually not feasible to employ a specialist. However, acoustics impact the well-being and productivity of the people that occupy and use those spaces, and it is especially there that a cost-effective and powerful tool such as ours is needed to optimise sound.”
Even though Treble Technologies doesn’t officially release its software until 1 March, it is already in use with the company’s partners and pilot customers. One of the first buildings to have benefitted from it is the new city hall in Uppsala (pictured above and below). The 25,000 square metre building designed by Henning Larsen Architects using the Treble Technologies prototype opened its doors last year.
What makes the tool especially accessible is its VR technology. That makes it possible to to step into a space that doesn’t exist yet and to experience its acoustics first-hand. There are a variety of metrics that can be used to calculate acoustics, but, unless you have a degree in physics, you probably won’t be unable to make any sense of what those numbers mean.
“One of the innovative things we are doing is, almost like a video game, allowing you to walk around in a building. Instead of presenting you with figures and graphs that only an expert would understand,” Mr Pind says. “We start out with a 3D model of a structure. That 3D model takes into account the different building materials that make up that structure — wood, glass etc. We then take a model of the sound source and sound wave calculations and combine the two.”
In the beginning, Treble Technologies was almost entirely focused on on the construction industry, but, as things progressed, he discovered that the technology could be useful for other industries — things like TVs, speakers, headphones and mobile phones — basically, according to Mr Pind, any product that for which sound quality is important. Today, its clients include some of the world’s biggest tech and car companies.
The company was launched with a grant from Rannís, the national technology development fund, as well as investments from close friends and family. It began actively looking for funding, and during its pre–seed funding raised €1.5 million.
“Our first major investors were the Icelandic investment fund Novator and a private Icelandic investor,” Mr Pind says. “This was a major boon for us. We went from being four dudes hacking away in a windowless basement to having an office and being able to hire staff. A year later we had another round of funding and the truth is our product is expensive to research and develop.”
In December, the company announced it had raised €8 million in its latest round of funding, made up of a €2.5 million grant from the European Investment Fund and €5.5 million from investors. Frumtak Venture, an Icelandic investment fund, led the round, other investors included Saint-Gobain, a French producer of high-performance materials and one of the world’s largest companies. Furthermore, the EIC has committed to invest in the company in 2023.
This year, Treble Technologies moved into a new office, fittingly located next to Harpa, Reykjavík’s iconic concert hall — itself a Henning Larsen design. It plans to double its workforce by spring. The biggest reason for the firm’s move to Iceland from Denmark was to be close to friends and family, but, according to Mr Pind, being located in the Icelandic capital has placed Treble Technologies in an Icelandic start-up scene where getting in touch with investors is relatively easy.
“The benefits are how easy it is to get in touch with people. The minister of innovation met with us at one point and told us to let her know if there was anything she could do to facilitate a better working environment. I doubt that would’ve happened in the US or Denmark,” he says. “The problem is, however, that because we are such a specialised company that it can be difficult to find employees. All, or at least many, of the country’s acoustical engineers are already working for us, which means we need to go abroad to find staff.”
Deadline-day for Treble Technologies is 1 March, when its software, goes from being a prototype to version 1.0. There are still, as he puts it, “a million things we want to develop further” ahead of the launch, but Treble Technologies, he says, is already looking ahead.
“I want us to be the tool that is used to design everything that involves sound. That includes physical objects such as cars, buildings, phones etc. But also when it comes to the future of virtual reality.”
This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Business Journal and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any content supported by the European Media and Information Fund lies with the author(s) and it may not necessarily reflect the positions of the EMIF and the Fund Partners, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.