Sound Science Featured Pattern: P1122 October 2017

Author: Marianne Monteforte (Send us feedback.)

Sonic technologies are enabling new advanced products and services and quality-control methods, but sound may threaten cybersecurity.

Abstracts in this Pattern:

Advances in sound research have the potential to change the way everyday household products function. For example, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, Tennessee) have developed a prototype tumble dryer that uses high-frequency sound waves instead of heat to dry laundry. The ultrasonic dryer is three times more energy efficient than are conventional tumble dryers, and the researchers are working with General Electric (Boston, Massachusetts) to prepare the dryer for commercialization.

Industrial production lines can also benefit from sound technologies. For example, scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology (Fraunhofer Society for the Advancement of Applied Research; Munich, Germany) are developing cognitive systems capable of analyzing noise from industrial equipment. Using a novel data-analysis approach, the systems monitor the sounds equipment makes to identify errors and their causes. Such systems could prove even more relevant as many automated environments begin to see less human supervision. Other product-testing methods that could profit from such sound-analysis techniques include predictive maintenance, constant processes monitoring, and advanced failure analytics.

Experts in sound design are using acoustics to create personalized soundscapes. For example, Sen Sound (Washington, DC) founder Yoko Sen talked to patients and staff at the Sibley Memorial Hospital (Johns Hopkins University; Baltimore, Maryland) in Washington, DC, to inquire about noise disturbances and sound preferences. Sen is "prototyping sound environments that help patients and providers cut through the clamor, potentially improving both patient health and medical care in the process." Soundscape design could also help to improve consumer experiences across services in the hospitality and entertainment industries.

Sound can also see use in cyberattacks. For example, researchers from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan) have showed that sound waves can see use to hack into critical sensors in a wide variety of technologies, including Internet of Things and medical devices, smartphones, and vehicles. In one demonstration, the researchers used an inexpensive speaker to add thousands of fictitious steps to a Fitbit (San Francisco, California) activity-tracking device. Using sound to trick device accelerometers "served as a backdoor into the devices," enabling the researchers to gain control over other areas of device systems.