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Robots to 'hear Better' With New Microphone Technique

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A robot stands beside the Spherical Microphone Array used to test sound processing.

A new microphone system holds the potential to help robots pay closer attention to what they hear.

Credit: Glyn Davis

U.K. scientists have developed a new microphone system with the potential to help future robots pay closer attention to what they hear.

Technology from researchers at Imperial College London makes it possible to zoom in on conversations in noisy rooms, similar to what people to do at a party, or from afar. The researchers say the technology could help robots listen and take instructions in hospitals, for example.

"Being able to pick out particular conversations or voices in a crowd is a real challenge for everyday devices like phones and hearing aids," observes lead researcher Patrick Naylor. "Until now, microphones haven't been able to separate one sound or conversation from another in three dimensions."

The system uses 32 microphones placed around a sphere. Slight differences in the time it takes sound to reach each of the microphones are measured and the information analyzed by a computer. The technology enables the system to focus on sounds coming from one particular spot, and by creating an acoustic zoom, it also can listen to a sound source far away and hear it as if it were much closer.

The researchers say they want to give robots the same level of awareness and understanding of the soundscape as humans do, but in three dimensions.

From Engineering and Technology Magazine
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