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‘Batman’ Style: How We Too Can See With Sound

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
July 28, 2013

Birds do it. Bats do it. Now even educated people do it. We are talking about echolocation; the process whereby certain animals emit sounds that bounce off objects, helping identify what lies ahead.

Now a team of researchers has created an algorithm that could give the rest of us a chance to see with sound.

Lead study author Ivan Dokmanic of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Switzerland says the project started with a question.

“Is it possible to just produce a sound and be like Batman or just hear the shape of the room?”

Dokmanic and his team made it happen.

First, they set up a few microphones around a room. Then, “hook these microphones up to an amplifier and a computer, produce some sound, and then just calculate the shape of the room based on the echoes that you receive from the walls in the room,” Dokmanic explains.

So what’s it good for?

For starters, it could be used in architectural acoustics. Say you’re building a concert hall and you know just how you want it to sound, says Dokmanic. “Just plug this into our algorithm. And then this algorithm will produce the room that produces these echoes.”

Or the technology could be used as an aid for blind people. Dokmanic says it could, “give some kind of optic feedback maybe to the user saying, okay, the general form of the room is like this or there are obstacles here and there.”

It could also be used in audio forensics. A recording that captured the sound of a crime being committed could then be used to reconstruct the room, providing evidence to investigators.

But these applications are not available just yet. Dokmanic says he and his team are in the process of raising funds to expand the technology, and hope to turn it into a smart phone app.

“I hope not too long–but the realistic horizon is two years to get something that’s really usable by everyone,” says Dokmanic. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

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