LOCALISING SOUND IN SPACE


INTRODUCTION

Suppose you are driving on a road. A car ahead of you is honking its horn continuously. Do you need to hear it? No. Do you want to hear it? No. Do you hear it? Yes! If I were to relate honking the horn to sending an email, then this is akin to spamming the entire office while trying to send it to one person!

Consider the houses next to a big sports stadium. Every week or so, a match is held there when thousands of people throng the stadium while loud commentary and music goes on well past midnight. Life is tough for the people living around that stadium. Now imagine if they never heard a thing. That is, the music is still there but only where it should be — in the stadium. This is what localising sound in space can achieve.

The reason why noise pollution is seemingly uncontrollable today is because a win-win technology is simply not present!

THE TECHNOLOGY

Localised sound could help or rather transform the way we interact. Unlike regular sound, localised sound would be restricted in space i.e. sound would be audible in one particular region and would fade away as you move away from it. So in our honking the horn case, the horn should be audible only ahead of the car, say in -70 to 70 degree span.

Currently, technology for directional sound is available (US military) but not in sizes suitable for gadgets. Sort of unexplored for what we are talking about here.

BENEFITS

Large scale applications of this technology are infinite. Even the two examples mentioned above are sufficient to make investing in it worthwhile. Extend that to include large noise sources like social gatherings, household gadgets and you have a sizeable market to target. Once technology becomes available, governments will most definitely enact regulations to restrict noise pollution thus forcing the big players to use the technology irrespective of its initial high price.

In the next 5 years, if technology to control the direction as well as range of sound does become more prevalent, we’d have the following benefits:

  1. Increased privacy
    No one needs to know what my smartphone is saying to me or what I am saying to my smartphone. For all the notifications you receive, you could direct your smartphone to locate you and dictate them to you — all without anyone else noticing a thing!
  2. No compromises, Win-win solution
    Complaints to police from angry neighbours about loud music are common around the world. If you gave people an option of restricting the range of the music while maintaining the volume, I bet they would buy it!

ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES

If we are able to control the sound emanating from our devices, that itself would be revolutionary. But imagine if we can do the same with our own voice. Some wearable tech near your mouth that detects what you are whispering and then transmits it to where you are looking or pointing!

This is a technology that is revolutionary, has a very big market and changes the world for good. Perfect to be the next big thing.


The above is my submission to Qualcomm’s Look into the future of technology innovation challenge on MindSumo.