No more noisy frustration! Researchers to come up with new device

Washington: From starting the day with the sound of the alarm, till finally hitting the bed at night, we are constantly surrounded by noise. It’s everywhere, from people talking in the office to the never-ending traffic jams, to road constructions.

In an attempt to solve this issue, a group of researchers is working on improving this noisy frustration. Current noise cancelling technology comes in the form of headphones and earbuds. To cancel noise, these headphones emit an anti-noise signal to contrast the external sounds.

The time available for the headphones to produce this anti-noise signal is extremely short. This results in some noise getting through, which is why all these devices must cover the entire ear with the noise-canceling material. However, wearing such ear-blocking devices for long periods of time is not comfortable, and can even be harmful.

Sheng Shen, one of the researchers said, “Our goal is to not block the ear canal, we envision a behind-the-ear device that still achieves noise cancellation as good as the best headphones or earbuds available today.”

The research involves combining wireless IoT networks with noise cancellation. A microphone is placed in the environment that senses sound and sends them over wireless signals to an earpiece. Since wireless signals travel a million times faster than sound, the earphone can receive the sound information much faster than the actual sound itself.

Explaining the concept further, Romit Roy Choudhury, another researcher said, “This is similar to lightning and thunder, the lightning arrives much before the thunder, allowing people to prepare for the loud rumble. Similarly, our ear device gets the sound information in advance, and has much more time to produce a better anti-noise signal.”

With this technology, the person who wants to cancel noise would place the IoT microphone away from her, say on their office door. The noise from their coworkers’ conversation in the hallway is picked up by this IoT device and transmitted to their earpiece over a wireless connection. The actual sound arrives at the earpiece later, and because of this lead time, the noise can be fully canceled. As a result, it is no longer necessary to block the ear canal.

There are, however, a few limitations. The IoT microphone needs to be between the noise source and the person. If noise is coming at them from all directions, a couple more IoT devices would need to be placed around them.

In tests conducted during the research, the device designed by Shen and Choudhury’s group outperformed a leading headphone in overall noise cancellation and was rated better by the human participants.

When asked about the potential privacy concerns involved with the device, Shen said “The most common privacy concern is that the device will secretly record someone’s voice. This device is analog, so it has no capacity to record the sound. The moment the device hears the sound it is sent out wirelessly.”

This differentiation is what separates this device from many IoT devices commonly used today, which must record voice samples in order to operate. The researchers are still working on the final product.

The research was discussed in the SIGCOMM 2018 meeting.