A new app listening out for sounds of danger


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Many of us have had the unpleasant experience of a potentially serious close call when not paying attention to dangers on the street. Studies show that this risk is growing with increasingly intensive use of smart phones, especially among so-called “distracted walkers”. People with hearing loss know these dangers all too well.

One Llama, a start-up based in New York City, is developing an app that it hopes will enable smartphones and wearable devices to constantly listen out for sounds of danger in the environment. The app is called Audio Aware and was planned for release in March. It will run in the background of an Android smartphone, detecting sounds like screeching tires and emergency vehicle sirens, and will alert users to these sounds. The app will be programmed with a number of common perilous sounds and users will be able to add their own sounds to the app and share them with others.

The technology behind the app is what the company calls its “artificial ear.” It follows the same principle as hair cells that vibrate like tuning forks when hit by certain frequencies. In One Llama’s software version of the human ear, there is an array of digital tuning forks that map to frequencies associated with potentially hazardous situations, like car horns or breaking glass for instance. The system is based on work by company cofounder David Tcheng and others, carried out at the University of Illinois.

One issue is whether the sounds can be processed fast enough to alert users in time, but the company is confident about this aspect. One Llama hopes that makers of wearable gadgets, who could include the technology into smart glasses, smart watches, and fitness trackers, will also be interested in Audio Aware.

Source: Technology Review