SONYC Researchers with sensor

NYU CUSP and NYU MARL’s Sounds of New York City (SONYC) project is featured by WBUR, with interviews from Postdoctoral Researcher Graham Dove and Research Scientist Mark Cartwright.

New York’s biggest civic complaint is noise. And though the city’s sounds are part of what makes life there unique, too much of it can be dangerous — affecting hearing, stress levels and more.

Now, a team of researchers at New York University, in collaboration with Ohio State University, are undertaking an initiative to learn how much noise there is, and what is causing it.

The project, called Sounds Of New York City (SONYC), involves placing sensors around the city to record 10-second sound clips. The audio is uploaded onto a website where citizen scientists can help identify them. SONYC also relies on artificial intelligence, as computers get better and better at identifying the sounds on their own. The goal is to help the city’s Department of Environmental Protection mitigate against noise pollution.

Even though the sensors are 20 feet above the ground, “that gets us close enough” to monitor relevant noise, says NYU postdoctoral researcher Graham Dove.

“That’s us up there,” Dove says, indicating what looks like a black dot on top of a utility pole in Brooklyn. “If you come around to this side you can see where the microphone cover is, where the windshield is for the sensor and the little WiFi antenna.”

The sensors capture a variety of sounds in just a few minutes: buses, sirens, street musicians. They’re made in a lab at NYU’s Center for Urban Progress, a spacious, glass-enclosed workshop where the sensors are made.

“We have a number of microphones, single-core computing board,” Dove says, and then points to a toy fire truck, which he activates with a small button. “When we’re demoing the abilities of the sensor, particularly the machine learning aspects of the sensor, our little fire truck comes in very useful.”

And while playing with the fire trucks seems like a lighthearted endeavor, research scientist Mark Cartwright explains that at its core, the project is a serious one.

“The goal is to monitor, analyze and mitigate urban noise pollution,” he says.