Noise isn't Just Annoying, It's Bad for Health.
I'm not a big fan of going shopping. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy wandering around the shops once a year at Christmas, finding things that might make my loved ones smile. But apart from that I'd rather avoid that experience all together.
Why? Well, it's the noise. I find the constant noise of people, machinery, music, doors and all the other things you find when out in places full of people just too much. The sounds overwhelm me, disorientate me and simply exhaust me.
Adverse Health Effects of Noise
Noise is not just annoying, it can cause physical and mental health problems, as well as anti-social behaviour. In their study, researchers Goines and Hagler, cited the top 7 impacts of noise on health to be:
- Hearing impairment
- Interference with spoken communication
- Sleep disturbances
- Cardiovascular disturbances
- Disturbances in mental health
- Impaired task performance
- Negative social behavior and annoyance reactions
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Increasing Noise Related Problems
To me, it seems like things are noisier than they were before. Now that is a difficult thing to put your finger on, but I'm not alone, and there seems to be a reason. There's more of us doing more, with more things, in smaller spaces.
Most of us are living and working in smaller spaces than a decade ago. Housing has got smaller, work spaces are smaller, as more people live and work in cities, space only becomes more of a premium. As factories adopt new technologies and processes, they too, are getting smaller.
However, the things we want to do in those spaces now involve more machinery and/or devices than they did before (when spaces where bigger) - computers, phones, chargers, refrigerators, air conditioning, lighting, cookers, and many more for industrial settings.
All these things make noise. Some subtle, some much less subtle, and as these things need to become smaller, the amount of noise they make often increases.
Take, for example, refrigerators in a supermarket.
Refrigerators are one of the largest energy consumers of a supermarket, and one of the biggest contributors to noise.
As supermarket shrinks to fit smaller retail units, the machinery also needs to shrink. Due to the engineering and physics of this, when compressors and fans get smaller, but the amount of work they need to do stays the same, the amount of energy needed, and noise generated both increase.
More noise in smaller spaces
So things are getting noisier because the spaces are getting smaller, but that's not all. As one contributor on Quora deftly describes, "sound is very complicated". The same amount of noise in a small space is likely to be perceived as louder than the same sound in an open space - and it all comes down to reflections.
If you're at a concert, it's pretty easy to identify where the noise is coming from. But in an office meeting room, it can be very difficult to pin point the reason why the room seems so noisy, even with just a few people in it.
And this is a problem, because before you can think about sound masking or sound proofing solutions, you need to know where to apply it. You could spend a lot of time and money soundproofing office walls only to find the noise stays the same.
In a factory the rapid and precise identification of new noises can save significant amounts of time and money through proactive, predictive maintenance. Many Industrial IoT applications are focusing on using sound identification to help prevent unexpected outages. But even for the most trained CNC operator, it can be really difficult to pinpoint the new sounds over the rest of the noise.
Noise is a menace, for sure, and our modern lifestyle isn't helping things. Is there an answer, can technology help? Yes, read on...
Noise is a product design problem
The problem of noise is not confined to the supermarket refrigerator or CNC machine.
Noise identification, isolation and sound proofing is a big area of study from industries as diverse as Power Generation, Transportation and commercial properties and private residence development in smart cities.
Examples of sound identification in various industries
Low frequency noises coming from power infrastructure typically indicates that a component has come loose, which could lead to a catastrophic failure. Traditional methods, require the shut-down of the entire plant, and each component to be assessed manually.
Where Is The Noise Coming From?
Having experienced a noisy neighbour and working with the local council to pinpoint the noise source, I know first hand that traditional hand-held decibel metres can be almost useless at narrowing down the noise source. At best they tell confirm, "yes, noise is present".
Being visual beings, what we really need is a way to see the sound. Cue Seven Bel and their clever sound imaging technology...
Visualise Noise Sources In Complex Environments
Seven Bel's Acoustic Measuring device and Augmented Reality Sound Visualisation
Seven Bel have created a technology that creates hundreds of virtual microphones, that are able to detect and pin-point noise sources across a broad range of frequencies, and then create visual "heat maps" of the offending sounds.
The solution hinges on a fascinating rotating "wand" to capture the data, and sophisticated processing in the Cloud to identify the true origin of noise.
The kit simply consists of their microphone wand, a smartphone app and a tripod. Together, these capture vast amounts of high-precision audio data, which is processed in the Cloud and then visualised on the smartphone.
The wand consists of five hardware microphones and a bunch of other sensors including accelerometers. When attached to a tripod, the wand can be spun to create an effective field of up to 250 virtual microphones, helping capture a much more dense sound field than you'd expect.
It only takes a couple of seconds to capture, and then the data is sent to the Cloud for a full-spectrum analysis.
The Cloud analysis looks across all available frequency ranges to identify noise hot-spots. This is really useful to find the proverbial "needle in a haystack".
Once the offending source has been identified, and corrective measures have been applied, spin the wand and inspect the area again in real-time, right on the smartphone.
Watch The Video
I found this video really enjoyable to watch, it shows how to set up and measure the sound pressure using their system.
If it can become quicker, easier and cheaper for designers to identify noise hotspots in their products, then we could all start to benefit from quieter, calmer places.
Whether that's from reducing work-place machinery noise, identifying acoustic problem spots with architectural design or making our gadgets humm just a little less, then that sounds like a good thing to me.
Seven Bel gave me a short presentation to share with you that details more of the use-cases and the technical specs of their solution. You can download it for free below.
Say No To Noise
You might not have realised the impact noise can have on your life. You might not realise how much noise you endure each day. Now there's a way to be more informed, a cost-effective way to make data informed decisions, so what are you going to do next?
Will you share this article with your employers, and challenge them to do a workplace noise assessment? Will you ask the real-estate agent for noise measurements when picking your next apartment? Are you a designer that now has a new tool to make better, more appealing products? Leave a comment, let me know.