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German Researchers Manufacture Intelligent Ears for Cars

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【Summary】While some automakers and companies are looking into helping cars see the road, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology in Germany have introduced an artificially intelligent set of ears for cars.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Feb 22, 2020 6:00 AM PT
German Researchers Manufacture Intelligent Ears for Cars

Companies and automakers are all looking into ways to help cars see the road ahead. If vehicles can see what's ahead of them, they can possibly decrease the number of accidents and improve safety on the road. Modern systems can detect speed limits, pedestrians, and lane markings, but sounds also play a large role in on-road safety. That's why German researchers have introduced a system that helps cars hear what's on the road.

High-Tech Ears For Improved Safety

German researchers at the Graunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology have come out with an artificial intelligence-based system that can be attached to cars. The system allows vehicles to not only listen to their surroundings, but to respond to them accordingly, too.

The system includes a microphone that's placed inside of a vehicle's roof fin, as long as it's been modified. The physical microphone is linked to a control unit that houses the necessary software to power the entire system. Different noises are housed in a library in the software, while computer algorithms are used to help the system recognize the type of noise. Acoustic signatures of specific sounds are recognized while ensuring that extraneous background noises are ignored. It's unlikely that the system will mistake an important noise for irrelevant ones, as the team used a variety of archived sounds to make sure that the algorithms can choose from the right ones.

Additionally, the researchers at the institute also programmed the system to have "beamforming algorithms." This piece of tech allows the ears to locate moving sound sources dynamically. So that siren on a quickly approaching emergency vehicle? The system can detect that it's coming from your left, instead of requiring you to look everywhere to find its location.

Modern vehicles come with a large amount of sound deadening to keep things quiet in the cabin. High-end audio systems also play music better than before, so it's likely that drivers don't know where sounds are coming from. The new technology would give drivers an efficient and clear way of seeing where loud, important sounds, whether it's an emergency vehicle or a pedestrian, are coming from, helping them be safer on the road.

Great Tech For Autonomous Cars

Apparently, the system is customizable and sensitive. The researchers claim that the system can be adjusted to pick up the sound of a nail that has been run over by a tire hitting the road surface consistently. That's a potential danger that drivers would be alerted to. Unusual noises, like those strange sounds that vehicles make when something's wrong, could also be programmed to set off the ears.

The researchers see this as a huge upside for autonomous vehicles. "Despite the huge potential of such applications, no autonomous vehicle has yet been equipped with a system capable of perceiving external noises," said Danilo Hollosi, head of the Acoustic Event Recognition group at Fraunhofer IDMT in Oldenburg, Germany. "Such systems would be able to immediately recognize the siren of an approaching emergency vehicle, for example, so that the autonomous vehicle would then know to move over to one side of the highway and form an access lane for the rescue services."

The researchers are still working on perfecting the tech, but they hope to have some type of commercialized version of the system on a vehicle within the next five years.

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