iot health

IoT Evolution Health News

IoT Evolution Health Home

Mapping the Acoustic Environment Two Hearing Aids at a Time

By Special Guest
Alex Pop, Content Writer, SayWhat Hearing
June 26, 2018

I believe an untapped business opportunity lies in acoustic mapping. As of this year, 2018, the floodgates will open with the release of the first machine learning powered hearing aid. Here’s why a new frontier is acoustic mapping, how machine learning plays into it, the ramifications it has for IoT, and how you can profit.

What are acoustic maps?
Acoustic maps are digital geographical maps of the sonic representation of a specific area. Acoustic mapping is the process of creating sonic renderings of the soundscapes in a given environment or location. Urban planners use them for cartographic representation of high noise areas. They are also used in virtual reality, audio forensics, telecommunications, and public health.

Acoustic mapping is currently used to visualize traffic flows and noise pollution. For instance, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation has a noise map that visualizes traffic flows and noise pollution. Loud zones, typically those close to airports or busy highways, are marked with a decibel level of 50 or above. With this information in hand, a real estate agent can recommend a house to a new family that will be salubrious to hearing health. A savvy civil planner can use it to construct the neighborhood park in an area that will be quiet - or even position the trees in the park in such a way that they block incoming sound.  

So what’s the point of all this acoustic data and how do we find a practical use for it? I’ll explain with a GoPro analogy.

GoPro for Audio
What GoPro already did with video, hearing aids could do with audio; namely, the mapping of locations through crowdsourcing.

I’m still flabbergasted by GoPro’s success. GoPro enabled a misfit collection of bikers, mountain climbers, and thrill seekers to document their travel experiences. Between 2004, when the company released its first helmet camera, to 2018 these individuals managed to visually capture every nook and cranny of the navigable world. Most of these videos are geotagged to a specific location.

GoPro could make a lot of money if they took all the video footage of a certain locale and bundled it as a VR game. Because chances are that any place you’re likely to see in a travel magazine has been shot with a GoPro hundreds of times over. I don’t know about you, but I’d want to see the Great Pyramids at Giza from the comfort of my own home.   

This is what hearing aids are primed to do, but with audio instead of video. For instance, I’d be curious to know how the Roman Colosseum sounds like during the different days of the week - so I could travel there on the least busiest day.

I’m sure a new store owner in a 3-story mall would care to know which floor has the highest foot traffic, a metric that could be measured by the historical acoustic data of all the mall’s patrons. That way they can open their storefront in the areas or choke points that are busiest.

An architect constructing a new residential condominium may want to communicate to the contractor the acoustic serenity and lack of city noise that residents above the 50th floor will experience. In luxury real estate people tend to buy based on impulse; the acoustic data would add another attribute to the luxury condo, making lofty floors easier to sell. The architect may be able to push for the construction of another 10 floors from the contractor, adding height to the building, and prestige to his name.

How Batman Used Echolocation to Find the Joker    
In The Dark Knight Batman tracked down the Joker with a piece of technology that turned each of Gotham’s citizens’ cellphones into a homing beacon. Cellphones would emit sonar, which bounced off surfaces, and other cellphones, thereby creating a 3-dimensional map of Gotham city. At the end of the movie, Morgan Freeman’s character ethically destroyed the technology due to the fact that it so callously infringed on people’s conversations and personal data.

What I’m talking about here is kind of the same thing - or at least the principle behind the ideas that would go into creating such a technology. It starts with acoustic mapping. Ethics aside, once we start capturing all this valuable data, then we can begin to make sense of (and monetize) it.

How We Can Use Crowdsourcing to Create Acoustic Maps
I believe the hearing aid is the best audio capturing tool currently available to collect and aggregate large sets of acoustic data. To create a futuristic Google Maps meets Echolocation Batman-like device, the right people, technology, and data capturing need to be in place.  

Over 1 million people in the world currently wear hearing aids. In the coming decades they will eventually upgrade to the latest hearing aid models. Even a few thousand participants collecting data would eventually map out the most highly trafficked navigable areas on earth.  

Hearing aid technology has come a long way from the bulky analog devices you see in black and white photographs. The latest hearing aid models are digital, connect to your smartphone, and can remember the acoustic preferences of their user. What’s more, the user continually adjusts these preferences, calibrating the process based on their hearing needs.  The logic that runs the algorithm not only pre-programs the listening profiles based off individual sound environment, but also the user’s feedback.

Data Capturing
The data capturing component is newly built. In May of 2018, hearing aid manufacturer Widex just released the first ever hearing aid with machine learning capabilities. Machine learning is important because hearing aids make over 800 million calculations per second, and someone’s gotta do all that work.  

The latest generation of hearing aids is designed to continually refine sound. Modern features like noise reduction, speech enhancement, and directional microphones do a fairly decent job of minimizing irrelevant information, giving the listener only the relevant audio information he or she desires. The algorithm works on top of these functionalities by aggregating the sound profiles of previous users that have been in that location.

“Just imagine a user in Paris benefitting from the input of a user in Sydney,” said Jørgen Jensen, Widex CEO

Where we’re at is pretty impressive. Although I don’t know what Widex is doing with that data (they claim it is only used in-house and that it is all anonymous), I do know that it’s only a matter of time until hearing aid companies see the value in this acoustic data, and start leveraging it, sharing it, or pawning it off to advertisers. Maybe in the end we might have to Morgan Freeman the whole thing.

About the author: Alex Pop is a content writer for SayWhat Hearing. He specializes in advertising, e-commerce, and hearing solution technologies. He enjoys educating readers on the beneficent power technology brings, while tackling societal issues that both unify and isolate modern man.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

Related Articles

Contact Tracing Available on Identiv Platform

By: Ken Briodagh    6/2/2020

Identiv has made available Hirsch Velocity Software with Contact Tracing via free download for Hirsch customers in order to support worldwide office r…

Read More

IoT Time Podcast S.5 Ep.19 Great Lakes Water Authority

By: Ken Briodagh    5/29/2020

In this episode of IoT Time Podcast, Ken Briodagh sits down with Ali Abdallah, Engineer and Infrastructure Manager at the Great Lakes Water Authority,…

Read More

AT&T and Cradlepoint Team up on Wireless WAN and a 5G Future

By: Ken Briodagh    5/18/2020

AT&T Simplifies Pathway to 5G with Cradlepoint, New Offerings include FirstNet Wireless Edge Solutions and Wireless WAN

Read More

Smartrac And Suku To Authenticate COVID-19 Tests And PPE with NFC, Blockchain

By: Ken Briodagh    5/18/2020

Smartrac and blockchain startup SUKU have together launched a digital verification solution designed to authenticate COVID-19 testing kits and persona…

Read More

Wireless Cybersecurity Protection for Remote Office Workers Comes for IT and IoT

By: Ken Briodagh    5/15/2020

802 Secure announced it has released a new solution to help protect the remote office worker from the challenges of the evolving cyber threats of wire…

Read More