“Futurama’ unfolding: Why using Virtual Reality to Test and Iterate Urban Sound Design Makes Sense

French composer, writer, broadcaster, engineer, music pioneer and acoustic researcher Pierre Schaeffer is known for his accomplishments in experimental and electronic music ( “musique concrète”) and reportedly for inspiring (ironically, given the focus of this article) the theme music to the cartoon, Futurama.

Image source: Snobal 2017

But he’s also (perhaps lesser known?) for his impact in the study of acoustics which are tied up, by its very nature, with the field of human perception. Studies have shown that sound is perceived twice as loud if the sound level increases by 10 dB. A 20 dB increase in the sound level is perceived as four times as loud by the normal human ear. We also know that wind coming from the road increases noise; wind going towards the road decreases noise, (VicRoads).

Schaeffer work in acoustics has obvious resonance with the growth in cities and managing ‘unwanted sound’ (or noise) an increasing concern of urban planners, traffic engineers and government decision makers.

How can cities best manage sound? What can be done in the design of roads, airports, trains and cities to keep “unwanted sound” to an acceptable level? What areas in a city need to be designated as “quiet”? In fact, what does “quiet” actually mean in a city?

Emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR) is increasingly being used for “visualisation” in urban design — for design collaboration, testing and iterating not to mention stakeholder engagement and communication. At Snobal we see that as VR is physics based it also has exciting potential to be used for “auralisation”. To aid urban planners, traffic engineers, urban designers and city decision makers to simulate and test the acoustic behaviour of environments and virtual assets and use the knowledge to optimise the physical environment — before its built.

It’s a fascinating area of work which we have being responding to in our software. Interested to find out more? Connect with us for a chat.

More information

If you want to read more on VR and acoustic design check out Phd student, Josep Llorca from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya paper “Virtual Reality for Urban Sound Design: A Tool for Architects and Urban Planners” and for those interested in Schaeffers work here is a link to an edited and translated version of his influential work).