Recording The Noise Scape of Your Life with NoiseTube

By February 19th, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Comment

NoiseTube allows citizen scientists to monitor noise pollution with a mobile app.

Come to your senses! SciStarter has curated a list of projects for all 5 senses.

Pristine view or noise pollution?

Pristine view or noise pollution?

I was overjoyed the first time I heard the peaceful fountain, twittering bird song, and gentle rustle of wind through the trees oustide my office window. Then, one morning in early January, I opened the windows to a cacophony of new, and unwelcomed, sounds – cars on the freeway, backhoes and bulldozers beeping, chainsaws buzzing. The developers had arrived with their manmade noise pollution and associated health risks. But how loud is this new racket wafting in on the breeze?

NoiseTube was developed by the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris and the BrusSense Team at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel to empower citizen scientists to measure and record their daily exposure to noise. According to Dr. Ellie D’Hondt, a scientist with BrusSense, “The volunteers helping out in these campaigns are essential… we are showing that participatory maps are just as useful as the ones made by official approaches.”

Once the free mobile app (available for iOS, Android, and Java ME-based smartphones) is downloaded, your mobile phone is transformed into a noise-sensing machine. Curious how noisy the school run is? Is the ‘sound of silence’ really deafening? Are theme parks louder than crashing waves? Simply launch the app and record your noise exposure on-the-go to find out. Once your tracks are uploaded, you can compare your experiences with others around the globe.

Since its launch in 2008, over 2250 citizen scientists representing more than 652 cities in 75 countries have contributed sound tracks to the project. The top seven cities – Paris, Brussels, Zagreb, Hoeilaart, Aachen, Brooklyn, and Braunschweig; account for over 1000 minutes, or 16.67 hours, of recordings.

WommelgemMap

Citizen scientists identify traffic noise in Wommelgem, Belgium.

After analyzing data from just one city, Wommelgem, Belgium, Dr. D’Hondt explains, “I learned interesting things – where red lights were, where there were traffic slowers, and how locals would related these to colours on the noise map.” But how can a noise map show where red lights are? Through collaboration and feedback from local citizen scientists, Dr. D’Hondt discovered that a red light was located on the high dB(A) side of a roundabout (pictured). Eventually, Dr. D’Hondt would like to understand how loudness correlates positively and/or negatively with fun experiences.

While helping scientists understand how people perceive their daily soundscape, researchers hope to engage city planners by providing them with evidence to improve zoning and building regulations. “Getting the techniques to be accepted by authorities is still difficult at times.” Dr. D’Hondt observes. “Cities struggle with these norms [noise assessment guidelines] and often don’t have the means to include more modern techniques [such as participatory sensing].” The BrusSense lab has shown that citizen scientists contribute high quality data and that “Particpatory Noise Mapping Works!” – supporting the continued acceptance and democratisation of grassroots citizen scientist projects to explore the world around us.

Armed with my NoiseTube, I’m dying to know how the backhoes and bulldozers compare to rustling leaves or the cheering crowds at this weekend’s race. How might your experiences with fresh crunching snow compare to those of crashing waves? Why not grab your mobile phone and record the soundscape of our modern lives?

Photos: Melinda T. Hough and NoiseTube


Dr Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator dedicated to sharing the inspiring stories of life science and helping the general public explore their world. She holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh for research into how antibiotics kill bacteria, was a policy fellow at the National Academy of Sciences, and is a published photographer. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science.  Not content to stay stateside, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80 or plotting her next epic adventure.