NYC Opens Research Against Noise Pollution

November 8
6:00 AM 2016

According to Juan Pablo Bello-director of the Music and Audio Research Lab(MARL) at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture Education and lead investigator on the SONYC initiative, "noise pollution is one of the topmost quality of life issues for urban residents in the U.S. with proven effects on health, education, the economy, and the environment." 

The SONYC project will use a distributed network of both sensors and individuals for large-scale noise monitoring. During the project's initial phase, expected to take one year, approximately 100 sensors will be installed on NYU buildings at locations around Manhattan and Brooklyn to record street sounds as a way of "teaching" the sensors to recognize and differentiate between different types of noise.

According to Anish Arora, a professor of computer science and engineering from the Ohio State University, "SONYC sensors will need a new type of battery-powered computing node to support and even relearn diverse node recognition algorithms in situ while consuming very low power."

To ensure privacy, sound will be collected in 10-second snippets with random gaps in between. While sample snippets were reviewed by independent acoustical consultants Cerami & Associates and deemed to be unrecognizable as conversation, signs will be posted near sensors to alert passersby that sound recording is taking place.

Audio will only be recorded from each sensor for a total of four months over the course of a year to make sure daily, monthly and seasonal variations are accounted for. Access to all recordings will be restricted and limited to researchers.

"SONYC is the culmination of a three-year research pilot that has brought together some of NYU's best research areas: machine learning for audio, big data, user experience design, data visualization, and citizen science," said DuBois. 

The SONYC project will work closely with city agencies and industry in both research and implementation. Identifying noise events and designing and testing data-driven interventions will be done in cooperation with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

 SONYC will also implement a summer program in partnership with the Center for K-12 STEM Education at NYU's engineering school.

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