Controllable Sound Environments

Sensors, actuators, microprocessors, and wireless connection facilities are increasingly being embedded into everyday objects. These can be augmented with sonic features that make the environment more enjoyable, social life more interesting, and personal life more relaxed and healthy.

Grandma and me

Hi, I'm a teenager - 15 years old - and I like to wake up late, at least on Sundays.But today I decided to spend a few hours with my grandmother, so I set my alarm clock bed for 9 a.m. First, the bed tries to wake me up gently, by vibrating and making purring noises. Even though I am not sleeping anymore, I like to wait until the bed gets more nervous, when it realises I am still lying on it, and starts making harsh rhythmic movements and squeaking. I love it!

I get up and go into the living room. It's a mess after last night's party. You know, mum and dad are on vacation, so ... Chairs are everywhere; chips and peanuts all over the floor. I play some of my favourite hip-hop music while I put things back in place and prepare for the day. Different MCs and DJs are embodied in different pieces of furniture. I know it sounds retro, but it is so cool to move DJ Grandmaster Flash while I am moving that old armchair around. While I move through the house, the music seamlessly follows me through the objects I pass. When I leave home, I put on my headset and keep riding the beat. The headset doesn't cut me off from the environment,though. When I catch sight of a strange bird singing, I look at it and put my hand to my ear. This gesture activates acoustic zooming, and I can appreciate the bird song in isolation. But then I am distracted by the sight of a friend of mine chatting to a girl. Instinctively, I steer my acoustic zoom towards them, but I realize she is wearing one of those new active jackets that can create an acoustic shield around you. I wonder what they are talking about.

I reach my grandma's house. She became almost deaf about five years ago, but she is really brave and decided to get an implant of powerful bionic ears. In recent years, she has become more and more worried about the bad things that could happen to her. That's why my dad bought her a new door. As we leave the house and she closes the door, she proudly explains that the complex sound of the lock tells her that the lights are switched off, the gas is turned off, the fish are fed, and the window in the living room has been left wide open. I'm sure she left it open on purpose, but we go back in and close it anyway.

We are going to the Fred Astaire club today. Grandma is wearing brand new Mike shoes. She feels much more confident about herself in these shoes, because they give her bionic ears some sonic feedback about equilibrium so she's not afraid of falling while she moves around. Before we go into the club she wants to check on her health, which is promptly sonified through her bionic ears. Everything sounds fine, so we go in just as the show's starting. There are a dozen over-eighties there, wearing Mike shoes, tap dancing, and clearly having a good time. Their subtle, gentle movements trigger a massive and diverse set of rhythms. Who knows - it may even be cooler than hip hop!

On the way back home, grandma tells me how different the town was when she was a child. There was even a working water mill. Fortunately, we can both enjoy its sound. Both my cheap headset and her bionic ear can induce selective silence and let the lost sounds of the town emerge from history. That makes her remember even more. It's fun being with grandma.