NoiseTube – mapping the noise pollution around the world using smartphones

This innovative project called NoiseTube, is a research project which is aiming to crowdsource the measurement of environmental noise in people’s daily lives as they go about their day. This is great, since it allows for the tracking of noise across a long period of time as well as in many different areas – something that would be very costly to do otherwise by acoustics professionals.  Their project description is as follows:

Noise pollution is a serious problem in many cities. NoiseTube is a research project, started in 2008 at the Sony Computer Science Lab in Paris and currently hosted by the BrusSense Team at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, which proposes a participative approach for monitoring noise pollution by involving the general public. The NoiseTube mobile app extends the current usage of mobile phones by turning them into noise sensors enabling citizens to measure the sound exposure in their everyday environment. Furthermore each user can participate in creating a collective map of noise pollution by sharing geolocalized measurement data with the NoiseTube community.

By installing the free app on your smartphone, you will be able to measure the level of noise in dB(A), and tag the measurements obtained (e.g. subjective level of annoyance, source of sound,…). When uploaded to the website (3G, wifi or manually) you can check your sound trajectory on Google Maps.

I do have concerns as to how accurate these measurements are considering they’re using a whole multitude of cell phones to measure the sound levels – using microphones of all different makes and models and with varying quality and differing signal processing. They don’t discuss how they deal with that on their website. And it would take quite a few measurement samples for the ‘actual’ sound levels to be accurate to within an acceptable margin of error – they would need to reach a critical number of users in each city/area to get to that point. Another problem is that it requires people to actively measure and post the sound level with a descriptor – without a good feedback mechanism that urges people want to continually do this over a good period of time, I fear that after a few days of novelty, this app will go into the dustbin, unused and forgotten after a while. A redeeming quality of the project is that you can see your own personal measured sound levels in a sound exposure map that’s easily viewable in Google Maps/Earth. Unfortunately I’m not sure if I can really offer any alternatives to overcoming the obstacles. I’ll have to think on it a while.

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