Disruptive noise is almost everywhere, from people talking in the office corridor to road construction down the street to the neighbor’s lawn mower. Research being conducted at the University of Illinois’ Coordinated Science Laboratory is looking to improve this noisy frustration.

Current noise cancelling technology comes in the form of headphones and earbuds. To cancel noise, these headphones emit an anti-noise signal to contrast the external sounds. The time available for the headphones to produce this anti-noise signal is extremely short. This results in some noise getting through, which is why all these devices must cover the entire ear with noise-canceling material. However, wearing such ear-blocking devices for long periods of time is not comfortable, and can even be harmful.

“Our goal is to not block the ear canal,” said Sheng Shen, lead author and a Ph.D. candidate in the Coordinated Science Laboratory and Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). “We envision a behind-the-ear device that still achieves noise cancellation as good as the best headphones or earbuds available today.”

IoT noise relay example © UIC

The main idea behind this research involves combining wireless IoT networks with noise cancellation. A microphone is placed in the environment that senses sounds and sends them over wireless signals to an earpiece. Since wireless signals travel a million times faster than sound, the earphone can receive the sound information much faster than the actual sound itself.

“This is similar to lightning and thunder — the lightning arrives much before the thunder, allowing people to prepare for the loud rumble,” said Shen’s advisor, Romit Roy Choudhury, an ECE Professor. “Similarly, our ear device gets the sound information in advance, and has much more time to produce a better anti-noise signal.”

Source: UIC