Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


'Seeing' with sound: There's an app for that

A team of researchers have developed an algorithm that can map a room based on acoustic echoes, essentially using echolocation like a bat. 

By Staff / June 18, 2013

Scientists attempt to model the interior of Switzerland's Lausanne Cathedral based on how it echoes.

Photo Courtesy of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Enlarge

What is it like to be a bat? As Thomas Nagel persuasively argued in 1974, we will never know for sure what it feels like to navigate mainly by sonar, but a team of researchers could soon bring us the next best thing: an app for that.

Skip to next paragraph

In a study published in the current edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists at Harvard University and the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, Switzerland, describe how they have developed a software algorithm that builds a three-dimensional map of a room using just four microphones and a snap of the fingers.

The microphones pick up the echoes of the snap as they reverberate off the room's walls, and the algorithm measures the tiny lags between the sounds to measure the distance of the microphones from the source of the sound, as well as the distance from each of the walls. 

“Our software can build a 3D map of a simple, convex room with a precision of a few millimeters,” says Ivan Dokmanić, an École Polytechnique Fédérale doctoral student and the study's lead author, in a press release.

The researchers first tested their algorithm in an empty room with a movable wall. Pleased with the results, they moved on to something more ambitious: mapping an alcove in the Lausanne Cathedral, a floridly decorated Gothic church. The press release describes their efforts as yielding "good partial results."

In addition to helping us better identify with our chiropteran cousins, the researchers' algorithm promises a wide range of applications.

"Architects could use this to design rooms – for example concert halls or auditoriums – based upon the specific acoustics they would like to create,” says Mr. Dokmanić.

Permissions

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

 

Doing Good

 

What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!