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When a tree falls: IoT, smart homes and sound sensors

Smart Home World

Smart Home World

Guest post from Chris Mitchell (PhD), CEO and Founder, Audio Analytic Ltd.

The Smart Home market is exploding, and devices like smart thermostats, cameras, lights and wireless audio are leading the way.

A recent Parks Associates survey stated that 37% of U.S. households with broadband plan to buy a connected smart home device in 2015. Another report by Accenture forecast that two thirds of consumers will have connected smart devices in the home by 2019, with almost 70% of consumers having a smart thermostat and 60% having a smart security system. Security is a core focus for many Smart Home devices, with products such as SwannOne, Dropcam and Arlo from Netgear providing security-centric new offerings to the smart home.

The existing home security market has established significant value via recurring user subscriptions, but it is low in innovation and ripe for exploitation by disruptive smart home technology. Many aspects of the functionality and services provided by traditional security vendors are wide-open to automation.

If the devices in your home were smart enough to know when the safety or security of your loved ones, your property or your pets were at risk, they could let you know about events like a break-in, and even actively discourage them by turning on the lights or the TV. To be fully effective, devices in smart homes require a variety of sensors to make them aware of context. Current sensors are almost exclusively motion-based, determining whether someone is where they shouldn’t be by monitoring physical contact sensors on doors, or analysing video streams from netcams. But ears are also a critical sense that humans rely on, and sound detection is missing from the vast majority of smart home devices.

Consider for example how you would know if someone were in your house whilst you were also present. It would most likely be your hearing that would detect the presence of an intruder first, and your eyes would be secondary confirmation. In fact you use your ears in your house to pick up on a large variety of sounds that let you know what is happening, and not just for security. The combination of hearing and vision allows you to monitor a wide area, and you tend to interpret a significant proportion of what is happening based on the different sounds you hear.

So what would happen if you were away from home and your smoke alarm went off, or somebody broke the window? The answer is that the sound might just as well not have happened because there would be no-one there to react. Sound sensors make connected devices aware of the sounds that happen around them. If somebody breaks your kitchen window to gain entry, a sound sensor on a device will recognise the sound and trigger a series of actions in the smart home to prevent further intrusion, for example controlling lights, music or TV, or simply letting you know it is happening. Sound sensors listen for sounds from within the safety and confine of your own home, and they are smart enough to identify specific sounds and so extend the coverage provided by your smart home security system. Sounds occurring both within and outside the house are detected while no-one is at home to hear them, such as your smoke or CO alarm going off or your windows being broken. Sound sensors fill that missing essential sensory gap and make your smart home truly smart.

So the answer to the age-old question “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is yes – if you have devices enabled with sound sensors. Or perhaps to re-work it for the smart home context: “If there’s a sound in your home and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?” Oh yes, it sure does.

Audio Analytic Ltd will be at Smart Home World (23 – 24 June 2015 Royal Garden Hotel, London) later this month. 

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