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Building Interactive Smart Acoustics into Buildings and Clothing - Dr Anurag Agarwal

This project aims to build multiple sensors that are microphones and ways to interrogate the acoustic environment into wearable technologies for the hearing impaired subjects. These will also talk to microphones placed in the building's walls. With appropriate signal analysis, these can then segregate out the acoustic streams from different talkers, and beam form very effectively to increase the signal to noise ratio for the speaker being attended to. If they were built into corridors, they could track a speaker walking and talking, and still stream this to the hearing aids. The wearable sensors would produce an acoustic signal intermittently to measure the reverberation of the acoustic environment.

The population of the UK is aging rapidly. Hearing loss is epidemic amongst older adults, with >70% of people over 70 years old having hearing loss. Hearing loss results in poor speech understanding in noisy or reverberant environments, and difficulty separating speakers from each other and listening to them separately. Many older adults wear assistive listening technologies, primarily hearing aids, that are "smart", and can beamform to pick up sounds in one direction. However, these have limited access to acoustic information, as the small acoustic apertures from one or two microphones on a small hearing aid housing make it dmicult to characterise the acoustic environment to maximize listening ability. Also, hearing aids also do not measure reverberation and other complex aspects of the acoustic field.

Our proposal is to build multiple sensors that are microphones and ways to interrogate the acoustic environment into wearable technologies for the hearing impaired subjects. These will also talk to microphones placed in the building's walls. With appropriate signal analysis, these can then segregate out the acoustic streams from different talkers, and beam form very effectively to increase the signal to noise ratio for the speaker being attended to. If they were built into corridors, they could track a speaker walking and talking, and still stream this to the hearing aids. The wearable sensors would produce an acoustic signal intermittently to measure the reverberation of the acoustic environment.

This has several uses. By placing having people with wearable sensors walk around in buildings, we can characterize the "microacoustic" environment of different parts of the building, and optimize it using real world acoustic objects (i.e. bodies). Secondly, the by using the body and whole building as the acoustic aperture, we can characterize sound sources dynamically and accurately, and these can directly be streamed to the hearing aids for maximal listening. This could also replace FM systems that plug into hearing aids for hearing impaired children in schools. This initial part of the project will be to build a flexible wearable acoustic sensing system that can be accommodated into clothing.

Researchers:


Department of Engineering


Clinical Neurosciences, School of Medicine

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