News & Views
14 May 2021

Acoustic design and smart sensors
How can embedded sensors inform
automatic changes to room acoustics
to benefit the people in it?

Sounds have long been used to manipulate the environment. In the animal kingdom, the walnut caterpillar produces a continuous whistle to mimic a bird’s alarm call — sending predators scrambling for cover. For us humans, we can use smart sensor technology to create acoustic designs that suit our liking.

Here, Kyriakos Papanagiotou, director of KP Acoustics explains this technology.

Embedded sensors

Acoustic design is advancing, far beyond the amazement of a bellowing caterpillar. Imagine the following scenario:

You enter a room. A fingerprint scanning device interprets your galvanic skin response (GSR) in seconds — GSR refers to changes in sweat gland activity that reflect the intensity of our emotional state or stress levels. Software analyses this data, and detects you are moderately stressed. The software then instructs the room to play gentle music and dim the lights.

With a deep breath, you are starting to feel calmer.

Acoustic design applications

This is just one scenario — but the possibilities of smart sensors in acoustic design are endless. The aforementioned GSR sensor, for example, could be worn directly on the skin, or placed subtly on the armrest of a chair. This kind of dynamic adjustment of acoustics could have a whole host of applications in healthcare, education and theatre.

Production managers could gain access to data on their attendees as they entered the concert hall or auditorium. With this data, the acoustics in the allocated seating area of the attendee could be adjusted accordingly, ensuring their experience is in line with how they are feeling. If a person already has heightened emotion, perhaps their acoustics zone needs to be calmer than someone who is very relaxed upon entering the theatre.

And it’s not all about gentle melodies and calming atmospheres. In a bar for example, foot fall sensors could detect how many people are present and where they chose to sit or stand. If the sensors detect slow movements, music could be kept at a moderate volume to allow for conversation. Similarly, if the sensors detect faster movement, music could be amplified to encourage dancing.

It is this real-time adjustment, in line with what people really need, which makes acoustic design exciting.

Calling in the experts

Acoustics consultancy is a fundamental element of dynamic acoustic design. It’s not as simple as detecting sweat levels and turning the music down. In fact, it is possible to have a relatively quiet room that doesn’t feel calm at all. Perhaps an echo creates an eerie and unnerving feeling — not helped by a cold temperatures and harsh lighting. This can be particularly important for environments of a sensitive nature, such as healthcare clinics and medical practices.

It takes experienced acousticians to develop the right audio branding of a room — and to adhere to the regulatory requirements. Every space has its own regulations, whether this is the BCO for offices, BB93 for schools and education or HTM-0801 for healthcare. We know our customers will be far more excited about the high-tech potential of their project, rather than these regulations and we totally understand this. With the right acoustics consultants on board, you don’t need to dwell on the regulations, we’ll make sure you’ve got them covered.

Building acoustics are constantly evolving, and the use of embedded sensors is going to be a huge part of this advancement.

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