NYU and Ohio State University Help NYC Find Solutions to Harmful Noise Pollution

Noise pollution is a major issue in New York City (NYC) and other cities in the country. It is estimated that 9 out of 10 individuals in NYC alone are exposed to harmful noise levels. That number, when applied to other U.S. cities with more than 4 million residents, means that over 72 million people could be negatively impacted. But researchers at New York University (NYU) and Ohio State University are working on technological solutions to dial down the volume in the city that never sleeps.

The universities are partnering with NYC on the “Sounds of New York City” (SONYC) project — a five-year, $4.6 million project funded by the National Science Foundation — that will use sensors and citizens to monitor the everyday sounds of the city. The goal of the project is to record street sounds, and through the use of artificial intelligence, create a sound-recognition system that will give city officials a way to identify and mitigate noise.

Juan Pablo Bello, associate professor of music technology at NYU, is the head of SONYC. He confirmed that noise is “the topmost quality of life issue for urban residents in the U.S.” in a statement. Unfortunately, most cities are not equipped to address the problem because, according to Bello, they “lack the resources for continuously monitoring noise, the technology for understanding how individual sources contribute to noise pollution, the tools to broaden citizen participation in noise reporting, and the means to empower city agencies to take effective, information-driven action.”

It is therefore up to SONYC to help cities resolve these issues.

The researchers have installed the first sensor boxes, which transmit data through Wi-Fi, in Greenwich Village. One hundred sensors are expected to be placed throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn by the end of this year.

Phase one of the project involves each audio recording, with sensors programmed to record no more than 10 consecutive seconds to avoid eavesdropping on conversations and posing potential confidentiality issues. Each sensor will record audio for four months to capture daily, monthly, and seasonal variations.

During phase two, the sensors will no longer be recording; instead, they will be using machine-listening technology to identify sounds and produce reports, which will be combined with 311 complaints and other citizen reports to help NYC mitigate noise pollution.

Oded Nov, associate professor of technology management and innovation at NYU Tandon School of Engineering (NYU Tandon), believes that NYC is the “perfect environment” to test the SONYC system because of the existence of a ”strict noise code and an already active citizen noise reporting system” in addition to it being “the largest, densest, and noisiest city” in the U.S. “Providing New Yorkers with customized web and smartphone applications, combined with innovative machine-listening technology, will significantly impact both the quality and quantity of data that we’ll be able to deliver to our city partners,” Nov said in a statement.

What is the expectation for SONYC?

Less noise in NYC would be appreciated by its residents. Craig Paterson, noise aficionado and creator of “The Noise Curmudgeon” blog, has spent a great deal of time studying the struggles of living in an increasingly noisy world. Paterson’s blog focuses on the different aspects of sound, as well as ways to ameliorate noise. “I think there are millions of people who would like to decrease the levels of noise that we live with. I see projects like ‘The Sounds of New York City’ as very important,” said Paterson in an emailed statement.

Paterson also went on to reference the increased legislation and activism about noise in Europe, and how the U.S. lacks in the area. “Hopefully, that will change some day; and perhaps that will happen because of projects like ‘The Sounds of New York City,’” Paterson said in an emailed statement.

The University Network