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So You Know Those Annoying People Who Yell on Their Mobile Phones…?

Now here’s a technology that we can all get behind.

How many times do you find yourself casually going about your business, only to have your world pierced by what I call a “tele-yeller?”

You know the deal: You’re in a café, train, store, or walking along the street when you hear someone talking on their phone.

But they’re not just talking; they’re positively shouting, seemingly unaware that in this day and age of modern technology, it’s not actually necessary to yell down a phone line so the other person can hear them.

It’s a trend that’s annoyed people (including yours truly) for way too long.

And with the International Telecommunications Union predicting that by next year, there will be more mobile phones than people, we’re set for even more shouting.

Finally, though, a tech solution is at hand…

No Noise = No Shouting

At the University of Surrey in England, Professor Ahmet Kondoz and his team are working on microphone technology called quaudio.

The theory is pretty straightforward. More microphones and more sound filtering.

They’ve designed a device that’s small enough to fit inside a mobile phone and both amplifies sound next to the phone (i.e. from the person using it), while filtering out unwanted noise nearby. So the user doesn’t need to shout into the phone to be heard – even if they’re in a noisy place, such as a train station.

Here’s how quaudio works…

The device starts by packing four microphones onto a chip. In itself, this technology isn’t new; it’s merely the first step in the process.

Like all microphones, they’re able to detect where sound is coming from and then amplify that sound accordingly.

However, the problem arises because the microphones aren’t able to distinguish between intentional sound and unintentional sound.

That’s where quaudio’s sound-filtering technology comes in. As Professor Kondoz tells Humans Invent, “Using the data and conversion of that data into single channels, so that we can listen to individual voices… that’s new.”

In other words, he’s talking about a unique algorithm that breaks down voice data and filters what it needs, while dumping the rest.

“With the four microphones, we have a technique where they… can ‘look’ around 360 degrees and detect where the sound pressure is coming from… Sound pressure gives an indication of where the locations of the sources are in a mixture of speakers and from those… it can detect the direction and signal strength. It can then filter the words, only allowing the ones you want to get through.”

It’s versatile technology, too…

Two More Uses for This Sound-Filtering Technology

Aside from putting a figurative sock in the mouths of annoying phone shouters, quaudio has other practical uses.

For example, the fact that it’s able to filter sound could prove valuable in the defense sector, where security services would be able to conduct surveillance on potential criminals in a crowd by specifically picking out their conversation.

It could also help people with hearing difficulties. Kondoz says that by raising the volume of a hearing aid that included the quaudio technology, it would consequently boost the overall volume of the person’s surroundings. Then, the filtering system would “relay [the sound] you want, which you can select, to your hearing aid. You could then raise the volume of the hearing aid without turning up the unwanted sounds,” says Kondoz.

With a patent secured on the quaudio technology, Kondoz reveals that his team is now trying to secure deals with audio companies and a major mobile phone firm.

Getting some much-needed respite from phone yellers can’t happen fast enough.

Ahead of the tape,

Martin Denholm

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

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