Above, an audibility map showing the intelligibility that would be experienced by a listener in every part of a room with a lot of echoes. Intelligibility is best (red) near where the person is talking and weakest at the blue area which is close to a noise source. The software can make similar predictions for any number and distribution of noise sources. (Credit: Cardiff U.)

CARDIFF U. (UK)—Sound-mapping software based on human hearing could take the overhead noise out of open office and meeting spaces.

The new technology generates audibility maps of proposed room designs and shows hotspots where conversations would not be intelligible if the room were busy.

Using the technology, architects will be able to adjust designs to reduce reverberation until hotspots are eliminated and audibility is maximized.

“Software already exists to help architects predict how a building will perform acoustically for an audience in places like theatres and concert halls,” says John Culling, professor of psychology at Cardiff University.

“This new software is specifically designed to improve the acoustic design of indoor spaces where a large number of people meet, chat, and interact.

“It could be used for business as well as social purposes, for example, in designing open-plan offices, cafes and reception areas.”

The project team considered how people take in sound through both ears as it travels round busy rooms and how noise sources are affected by each other.

“Architects will be able to call their proposed design onto their computer screen and run the software, which will ask them to specify the locations of the main sound sources in the room,” Culling says.

“An audibility map will then automatically be produced and the architect will be able to change the room’s dimensions, its shape and/or the materials to be used, until hotspots are eliminated. This means that rooms could be tailor-made to suit their purpose.”

The new software is intended to be used in conjunction with standard architectural computer programs widely employed in room design.

Culling says the software could eventually be useful in areas where audibility is important, such as rail and airport announcement waiting areas,  and even in the development of cochlear implants and hearing aids.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is providing funding for the project.

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