The Loh Down On Science

Smart Noise

Putting the kibosh on eavesdropping.

Hello, listeners, my old friends. I've come to talk with you again.

I mean me – Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, bringing you the Sound of Silence.

[Pause] Did you hear it? No?

Thank MIT engineers Yasuhiro Ono and Joseph Paradiso. This damping duo is patenting an anti-eavesdropping system for public places – like cubicle-filled offices.

Want to bad-mouth your boss to your cube buddy? Activate the smart transducer network, aka "sound shield," from your desktop computer.

A networked system of infrared and vibration sensors detects anyone close enough to overhear you.

Using distance algorithms, the system's software decides who's part of the conversation and who's inappropriately lurking. Then, to mask your rant from outsiders, speakers broadcast white noise, which combines all the sound frequencies humans can hear. Imagine trying to pick out just one voice amid the murmur of a thousand.

And when your whisper becomes a series of loud expletives?

Microphones help adjust speaker output dynamically, so you're still covered.

But until your office installs the system, you're stuck sharing secrets in the janitor's closet.

Hello darkness, my old friend.


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