A new smartwatch app alerts people with hearing loss or hearing to nearby sounds such as a microwave signal or a car horn.
“The main motivation [for the app] comes from my own experience and the conversations my colleagues and I have had with people with hearing loss or hearing loss for several years,” said Dhruv Jain, who introduces the system called SoundWatch, at the ASSETS ’20 digital conference.
Jane, who is hearing impaired herself, uses SoundWatch at home to make sure that if the fire alarm goes off while she sleeps, she will understand.
“On a walk in nature, he will tell me that there are chirping birds, or there may be a waterfall nearby,” he said. “These sounds make me feel more present and connected to the world.”
There are a number of audio awareness apps for smartphones. But Jane prefers the immediacy of sound notifications on her wrist rather than in her pocket – and studies in people with hearing loss or hearing loss show that it’s not just him.
The SoundWatch app is paired with smartwatches and Android smartphones. The clock records ambient noise and sends this data to the phone for processing. When the phone detects a remarkable sound, the smartwatch vibrates and displays a notification.
Jane, a computer scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues designed the app to identify 20 different noises. In experiments, SoundWatch correctly identified these 20 sounds in 81.2% of cases. When set to monitor only for emergency noises – fire alarm, door knock or alarm clock – the application is 97.6% accurate. Eight people with hearing loss or hearing loss who tried SoundWatch on the university campus gave mostly positive ratings to the app, but noted that it classified some sounds incorrectly in noisy outdoor conditions.
Jane and her colleagues are now working on a version of SoundWatch that users can learn to recognize new sounds, such as their own alarm in the house, using only a few sound recordings.