Imagine yourself watching TV with a group of people. Through a standard speaker set up, each person would hear the same audio, although those closest to the speakers would hear the audio louder than others. Sound beams are far more precise: they can be individually controlled and directed with pinpoint accuracy. These beams can be used to direct equalized audio to each person, or at a volume adjusted to each listener’s preference. Multiple beams could also be employed simultaneously, so that one listener hears a German audio track, the second hears a Spanish audio track, and the rest hear an English audio track. These audio tracks would all be heard with perfect clarity and no overlap.
Beamforming shapes audio into controllable beams of sound, directed to each listener’s ear. As a result, listeners receive an individual 360° sound experience without the need for headphones.
Comhear holds an exclusive license for beamforming technology developed by researchers at the Qualcomm Institute, the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology.
Comhear’s sound beaming solution is contained in a physical docking station hosting an array of small speakers and microphones. Using advanced psychoacoustics and digital signal processing (DSP), the docking station produces spatially separated, adjustable audio beams. Spatial hearing is the ability for listeners to identify where sounds are coming from, even with their eyes closed. This is a powerful trait that helps us makes sense of complex soundscapes, and delivers more natural, easier to follow sound than by artificially raising or lowering volume levels.
NASA has found that our spatial conferencing and beamforming has provided a way to enhance audio and safety in a control station, and is one of the most useful cues for segregating competing sound signals. This is a more effective way to communicate in a control environment, as headsets can interfere with audio alerts. Using sound beams is an effective way to refocus attention in high stress or complex auditory environments, such as those found in aerospace flight decks or control centers.
Multi-talker environments like conference calls can be challenging for listeners. Cross talk, keyboard noise, poor audio quality and uneven volume levels increase a listener’s fatigue and frustration. Converting each talker’s voice into a sound beam reduces this fatigue and increases efficiency by making speech and communications up to 65% more intelligible.
Comhear’s conferencing software, available for tablets, mobile devices and laptops, gives participants a tool to control the volume and placement of each talker. Instead of relying on volume adjustment, the software allows listeners to individually control the volume and direction of each talker. Each participant is represented by an avatar that can be rearranged, giving listeners the sensation of moving voices closer or farther away. Spatial adjustments allow listeners to more naturally focus on who they want to hear–or who they don’t want to hear at all.
Future Applications and Collaborations
Comhear’s initial applications for sound beaming are conferencing environments and immersive gaming. Future applications for this technology could very well revolutionize how we experience entertainment, transportation, public spaces, and any other opportunities we have to interact with audio. Our acoustical modeling library supports algorithm and prototype development that can be applied to 3D and medical visualization, film, mobile media, virtual reality, and advanced communication systems. In collaboration with UCSD and our enterprise partners, we are excited to see–and hear–how audio sound beams will transform our collective listening experiences.l.