Now Hear This

Noise sensors could one day bring a little peace and quiet to city streets.

Nothing generates noise like noise. Just ask the staff at The City of Calgary’s 311 line. Noise complaints are a common issue and they spike in the spring and summer when people take to parks and their own backyards.

A new partnership between The City and the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering is taking a new approach to the problem. Researchers have built a series of sensors that can monitor noise produced by construction, traffic, trains and backyard parties. 

As the Calgary Sun recently reported, the sensors are being tested in various parts of the city and will also be used at two music festivals this summer. They could potentially alert festival organizers if sound levels are exceeding limits.

The sensors use a technology known as LoRaWAN (long-range wide-area network) and they are being developed as part of the Smart Cities Challenge. LoRaWAN-equipped sensors are able to communicate over long distances using minimal battery power. This makes them cheaper to use than WiFi-enabled devices. And cities around the world are using LoRaWAN in applications as varied as smart parkings, smart street lighting and smart water monitoring.

If all goes well with the testing, Calgary could one day have a network of sensors that could monitor air quality as well as noise levels. Researchers also say it might be possible to create a library of sounds so that the monitors could categorize what they are detecting. They would be able to tell the difference between a car back-firing and the sound of a gunshot.

All this would mean that police could respond to excessive noise without first receiving a complaint. The sensors just might make city life a bit more peaceful. And who knows? One day they might even provide an answer to that old question: if a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody around, does it make a sound?

March 26th, 2019
Updated: March 27th, 2019

New technology keeps its ear to the ground.