From Amazon package deliveries to an unprecedented birds-eye view of ground operations, drones offer countless applications on which businesses can capitalize. But as the number of drones continues to explode, so too is the raucous sound of the blades piercing through the air. By taking a page out of nature’s book, sound imaging specialist Sorama and robotics expert Avular are teaming up to calm the shrill of the machines and limit noise pollution.
Most people have a good understanding of the damaging effects that air pollution poses on the planet and the population. Somewhat less known, however, is that the second most damaging environmental impact on humans actually stems from noise pollution. There are a number of studies showing that psychoacoustic effects in the environment can have major effects on people’s health.
“There are certain sounds that can really trigger the fight-or-flight response that releases hormones in the human body,” says Rick Scholte, founder and CEO of the Eindhoven-based acoustic imaging expert Sorama. “Studies show that over time, high levels of these stress hormones can actually lead to a number of ailments – including heart disease.”
However, according to Scholte, not all sounds have the same effect on people. In fact, many of the sounds of nature – the ocean, forests, or in his research, the hum of hummingbirds can actually be therapeutic.
“What we find is that many of the sounds we encounter naturally in the world, don’t trigger the stress hormone response, rather they can have beneficial effects on stress levels,” explains Scholte. “It’s the man-made mechanical noises that we find ourselves surrounded by daily that have the most damaging effects. This is what we’re just starting to understand and has become the core business of Sorama as we aim to make sound insightful.”
To gain this insight, the Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) spinoff, has developed systems that use microphone arrays, ranging from just a few up to over 1024 microphones, to record sounds, which then uses AI to process, analyze and understand not only how the noise is generated but also the characteristics that make the sounds pleasant or stressful.
While there are several applications for this technology, spanning smart-city solutions to the industrial imaging domain where Sorama’s technology currently helps detect gas and air leaks, one of the focuses of the Eindhoven startup has been in collaboration with drone and robotics expert and Strijp-T neighbor Avular.
In its younger days, Avular gained a lot of experience in the drone market as a designer and builder of several application-specific drones, ranging from flying machines used in the agricultural sector to explosion and hazardous environments (ATEX). But in the last few years, the company has taken a pivot, focusing purely on robotics. “Our focus today has really become on creating a basis for modular robots that can be easily modified to fit in any application domain,” illustrates Yuri Steinbuch, COO of Avular.
“Rather than creating application-specific robots or drones, we work with domain experts to show them how our robotics knowledge and modular robotic brains can be integrated into their systems for near immediate use, especially within our drone and driving platforms.”
With Sorama’s insights into the effects of sound and how it’s generated, Avular is keen to find ways to improve its drone and robotics solutions. “To have additional awareness and understanding of how drone propellers flap and how exactly that results in specific sounds can have a big impact on designing next-gen drones, which can lessen the noise pollution. Of course, that’s a very interesting path for us at Avular,” says Steinbuch.
“But we’re looking to achieve more than that. In our collaborative efforts with Sorama, we’re really looking into how to utilize the technology from both sides to create new and improve existing solutions – like creating mobile sound cameras that can fly or drive into different environments and give us those insights that Rick was referring to. Those can tell us a lot.”
“Exactly. And we believe that it’s not simply about reducing the noise of drones or other mechanical sounds we encounter. Rather, our interest really lies in understanding the noise at a deeper level and finding ways to not just make it quieter but to make it more soothing and enjoyable,” highlights Scholte. “By mimicking nature, like the sound of the hummingbirds that can help reduce noise pollution and stress.”