Project overview: Sonome module

Concise description
To design, construct, and implement a module for transmitting noise levels wirelessly in an urban environment.

Target user
The module is for my personal use.

User feeling
I want to feel empowered to increase the scale of my project, and confident that I can achieve my goals using the module.

User action
Once programmed, I desire to "set and forget" the module; that is, the module should require minimal tinkering after correct programming, even in failure cases.

User knowledge
I want to know that the module is operating correctly. I also want to know the noise levels where the module is located, and this information should be easily accessible to me (as the developer) even without a visualization.

Problem to solve
In order to create a realtime noise map, realtime noise data is necessary. The primary function of the module is to measure the ambient noise level in a given location and transmit this information wirelessly to a server. However, the module also needs to be robust to exist outdoors,

Recommended solution
  1. Start with a homemade piezo microphone and an Arduino to measure the efficacy of such a microphone in measuring this kind of data.
  2. Make the Arduino wireless, likely using a WiFi shield.
  3. Measure power consumption during normal usage (reading & transmission every 200ms) and experiment with optimal settings.
  4. Determine definitive power needs (batteries or solar?).
  5. Finalize all components and eliminate excess
  6. Iterate designs and materials for an enclosure
  7. Test in real world...
Opportunities in problem space
Realtime noise maps basically do not exist for the general public. There are proprietary systems that provide such information but these are limited to professional applications. Providing this information on a democratized platform (i.e. any web browser) would promote a discussion of the role of noise in urban spaces in an accessible way. The only way to achieve this is to create a module capable of supplying this information.

General challenges in problem area
Gathering live data over a relatively large physical space is not an easy task, which I'm guessing is why realtime noise mapping is not more common. And even if you are able to deploy an array of sensors, keeping track of and presenting the data is always a concern.

Specific challenges
The main problem is requirement that the module must run and transmit data wirelessly in a variety of physical environments. Power is a significant concern because either the device needs to be self-sufficient (i.e. solar-powered) or it should run at least several months on batteries.

Another concern is mounting the module in the physical environment. The module should allow for a variety of mounting situations and weather conditions; this may suggest that the mounting system should be decoupled from the primary module design.

stillspotting nyc – Non-realtime noise map focused on finding quiet areas
SoundPLAN – Proprietary software packages for grid and meshed noise map simulation
Navcon – Engineering consultants utilizing SoundPLAN software
DataKustik – CadnaA (Computer Aided Noise Abatement) proprietary software offers up-to-the-hour dynamic noise mapping
2012 Manhattan Noise Complaints – Self-explanatory static map by Karl Sluis
Citygram – "Visualizing Urban Non-Ocular Ecology" (possibly defunct)
CONTACT – Hannah Mishin's PDS project from last year that visualized sound inside ITP
WideNoise – App for reporting and displaying chronologically-disparate sound data

Technical, spatial, and interactional requirements
  • Handle a wide range of noise levels
  • Run in a wide range of temperatures
  • Handle failure cases without crashing
  • Employ modular codebase to speed development and testing
  • Queryable status
  • The shape of the enclosure minimizes or negates effect of precipitation
  • The effect of echo off or vibration of the surface on which to be mounted
  • Inconspicuous design shouldn't attract unwanted attention
  • Minimize the sensitivity of module to hyperlocal noise (e.g. "noise vandals")
  • Needs to have a "set it and forget it" interaction style (for me)

Criteria/evaluation of success
  1. Accurately measure the ambient noise level in the sensor’s vicinity
  2. Transmit data wirelessly over Wi-Fi or GPRS several times per second
  3. Easily and safely mount in a variety of built environments
  4. Be quickly and economically manufactured
Besides #2, all of these criteria are subjective. For #1, a tolerance will be determined in conjunction with the proposed visualization of this data. I will define #3 through the process of creating and mounting the module. I will define #4 by researching potential materials and technologies and putting a cap on the total cost per module.

Draft timeline

Week 1 – Write project description

Week 2 – Research microphone

Week 3 – Build microphone prototype

Week 4 – Test microphone

Week 5 – Finalize microphone


Week 7 – Research wireless Arduino

Week 8 – Configure wireless Arduino

Week 9 – Finalize all electronic components

Week 10 – Research enclosure

Week 11 – Build prototype enclosure

Week 12 – Finalize enclosure

Week 13 – Final testing

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