Design

Electric air taxis may be exciting, but are they silent?

Photo credit: BM für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

You have to watch this very cool video on electric air taxis. It all seems very exciting, but why don’t we hear them in action?

As you may remember, I voiced my concern about two new sources of sky borne noise that were spurred by the 2018 signing of the FAA Re-Authorization Act: (1) the imminent appearance of drone-delivery services in our neighborhoods, and (2) the growing interest in all-electric vertical take off & landing air taxis. Some thought this was pure hype from Uber—an attempt to pump up their stock before their IPO awhile back. But there’s actually quite a bit of investment in technology for small, short-hop, eVTOL aircraft.

The idea’s been out there for a lifetime that small aircraft could be wheeled out of our garages, leap straight up into the air and whisk us off to…someplace besides a crowded freeway. Will regulators shut it down? Unlikely. In fact, they’re actively encouraging development of eVTOL aircraft, particularly in Europe, where, as you likely know, they pay much more attention to community noise than we do here in the U.S.

But what about the noise—not to mention the air accidents—from the burgeoning, uncontrolled growth of drone delivery services and air taxis? Yes, they’re electrically propelled, but they’re not silent.

Who cares about this? It’s time for the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus to re-convene and get back to work. They got the FAA Re-Authorization done (that took six years), but now it’s creating new problems that nobody seems to be thinking about.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

EU’s robust noise-labelling requirements

Image credit: Flappiefh has dedicated this work into the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Our own Dr. Fink wrote about this fascinating article in the New York Times concerning new labelling of junk foods in one of the world’s most overweight nations, Chile. The use of the classic octagonal STOP sign as the shape of these labels is absolutely brilliant as it telegraphs nonverbally, the powerful message to STOP and THINK. Using the same shape for labels on extremely noisy products would surely have an effect on peoples’ awareness that noise is now recognized as a public health problem.

I should add that abundant research was done in the European Union before the recent launch of a noise-awareness label on many classes of products–from air-conditioners to blenders to chainsaws and industrial equipment. You can see the label pictured above and note that it is very different from the Chilean approach.

As you can see, a noise-rating, stated in decibels (dB) has simply been added to the EU-wide energy label. Piggybacking a noise-rating onto the standardized energy label is an excellent approach to getting the message out about noise pollution in energy-conscious EU countries.

You surely also notice that the EU label is strictly informational, it simply reports the decibel emission level of the product—so it’s not a warning at all. Proponents argue that the EU approach is “market-based” and isn’t “judgmental” at all, i.e., there’s nothing on the label that tells you what noise level may be harmful to your health.

But at least there are now two very different, well-researched examples of how labelling might work on noisy products, the EU’s information-only approach, versus the Chilean warning label approach. So now some researcher can take a look at the big question: do they work?

Some of us remember the excitement that surrounded the semiotically-inspired “universal signage movement” of the 1960-70s–from that movement sprang the ubiquitous signage used all over the world for “bathroom” and “information” and “currency exchange,” etc., and later spurred the development of all of the icons that now litter our mobile devices. If you remember all that, you will certainly recognize that the shape and color of a warning label, like the red octagonal STOP sign or the standard try-color traffic light (red/yellow/green) took years to develop, standardize, and implement worldwide.

Lately, the whole universal sign language movement has gained new life in the UX-User Interface world, where symbols have emerged for everything, including emotional states, i.e., EMOJIs!

In any event, it’s my hope that someone will study the effectiveness of noise warning labels, so that the global noise problem can be addressed in an understandable and effective manner!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Quieter electric planes are already in the air

Photo credit: Matti Blume licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Some readers think electrically-powered aircraft are a wild-eyed futuristic idea—not so! Quieter all-electric, battery-powered aircraft are already flying. Most of these are one- or two-passenger planes but they demonstrate the viability and economic attractiveness of battery-powered electric planes. This video shows you ten models you can buy and fly now:

Perhaps the most exciting one in this video is the 11-seat (9 passengers plus two pilots) Israeli-designed “Eviation Alice” which is intended for commercial, commuter flights. The first customer for the Eviation Alice, CapeAir, based in the eastern U.S., signed up in mid-2019 and has placed an order for delivery in 2022.

The big player in this transformation to electric aircraft is not an American company. It’s Germany’s Siemens. So far Boeing and it’s engine-maker GE are not doing anything in this space, just sitting on the sidelines and waiting for somebody else to go first. But with Boeing’s GE-powered 737MAX completely and indefinitely grounded worldwide, perhaps that partnership isn’t in a mood for innovation right now.

Electric propulsion of larger airliners—the kind of planes most of us ride like Airbus A320s, etc.—won’t arrive until battery technology takes the next big leap. But Tesla’s Elon Musk is a major player in that effort, so keep an eye on him in this sector, too. He’s not just a car and rocket guy, he’s also keenly interested in electric aircraft.

Airports are certainly not quiet now, and the FAA seems to be working hard to stall improvement. But no matter what the FAA and regional airport authorities do, the electric revolution in aircraft is showing that quieter, more fuel-efficient flight is closer than we might have thought!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

6 in 10 workers complain about workplace distraction

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

And what are the biggest culprits?  No surprise: noisy talkers, loud recreation, and open concept offices.

The article linked above references a study that was conducted in Canada, but there’s no reason to suspect that the experience of U.S. workers is any different.  In the end, any savings in real estate expense must be outweighed by lost productivity due to noisy, distracting environments.

But is the productivity loss measureable? If yes, is it significant?

Yes and yes. According to a survey by coworking company iQ Offices, fighting distractions leads to “up to two hours per day of lost productivity.”

Two hours per day per employee.  It adds up.

 

A tech solution to restaurant noise?

Photo credit: Quark Studio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This informative piece by writer Chris Berdik discusses the problem of restaurant noise and a new technological solution to it, the Constellation audio system. The Constellation system uses microphones, speakers, and computer processing to tune a restaurant’s sound environment to sound quieter. A lot of sound absorbing material must be installed to make the room acoustically “dead” before the Constellation system is installed.

As discussed in this article in Acoustics Today, getting the acoustics right in a restaurant can be a challenge. Diners want to be able to converse with those at their table, but want enough ambient noise to provide speech privacy for their conversations–and they don’t want to hear the conversations at neighboring tables. They want some sound, so the restaurant isn’t as quiet as a tomb, but not too much. And the acoustic characteristics of the restaurant change, both in terms of noise production and sound absorption, as the restaurant goes from half empty to chock-a-block full.

The developers of the Constellation system are trying to bring the price down. It’s currently $60-80,000, which is a lot of money. If restaurateurs want to make their restaurants more inviting for patrons, they will find the funds to make the space comfortable and inviting.

Of course, one of the first principles of acoustics is that the easiest way to make a space quieter is to reduce the noise at its source. And the cheapest and easiest way to reduce restaurant noise costs nothing: turn down the volume of the amplified background music, which often is turned up to rock concert levels!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Hearing assistive devices shine at Consumer Electronics Show

Photo credit: Gb11111 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I’ve pointed out in earlier blogs to a once-in-a-generation convergence of technology, deregulation, and finance, that is fueling a boom in new hearing assistive devices. That convergence showed up this week at the gigantic Consumer Electronics Show as a handful of new products worth looking at.

This year’s offerings point to a growing cornucopia of new hearables products aimed at our ears—for the first time in decades. And that is a positive indicator that the long moribund, underinvested space of hearing health is attracting global attention. Which is good news for researchers, manufacturers, and consumers.

You’ve already read here about our partner, Richard Neitzel, PhD, from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, who’s working with Apple Inc. on Apple’s new iPhone/iWatch noise-warning app. And you’ve read here about SoundPrint and iHearU and our partner, Antonella Radicchi’s Hush City app and others. We wish them all success!

At this rate it’s going to be hard to keep up! For some of us it’s pure excitement to watch the acoustical/hearing products industry come alive again after forty years in the doldrums!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Don’t let unsafe use of tech and toys ruin your children’s hearing

Photo credit: Dark Dwarf licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Don’t let unsafe use of tech and toys ruin your children’s hearing. That’s the message the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association is sending to parents this holiday season. This article from a New Jersey radio station features ASHA’s associate director, audiologist Paul Farrell, who warns that loud noise from toys and headphones can cause hearing loss, which in turn affects academic, social, and economic success for the rest of the child’s life.

That’s why protecting a child’s hearing is so important.

Parents and grandparents should heed Mr. Farrell’s warning. After all, a child’s ears have to last her or him an entire lifetime.

And I’ll add a warning to the advice Farrell gives: Headphones advertised as “safe for hearing” using 85 decibels as a volume limit are not safe for hearing. The World Health Organization recommends only one hour at 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA)* to prevent hearing loss.

The 85 dBA standard is derived from occupational hearing regulations and doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss. It’s not meant as an exposure level for the general public, much less children.

I think you will agree that a noise exposure standard that won’t protect factory workers or heavy equipment operators is far too loud for a child’s delicate ears. So this holiday season, avoid tech and toys that play loud sound and give your kids the gift of continued good hearing.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements for the frequencies heard in human speech. A-weighted decibel readings are approximately 5-7 decibels lower than unweighted measurements.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Engineers on noise pollution

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

You might wonder whtether engineers are interested in America’s noise problem? According to Interesting Engineering, the answer is yes—and they can help you.

When you’re ready to address a noise problem in your city, town, townhouse, house, or apartment complex, these are the kinds of people you should call. In America, there are three engineering societies whose members specialize in noise control and acoustics:

  1. The National Council of Acoustical Consultants (NCAC),
  2. The Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE), and
  3. The Acoustical Society of America (ASA), the premier international scientific and research society in this field, which publishes the world’s leading peer-reviewed journal in Acoustical Science, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Venture money surges into hearing health treatments

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I’ve been watching Dr. Charles Liberman’s company, Frequency Therapeutics, for several years. He’s the physician-researcher who runs Harvard’s Lauer Tinnitus Research Center in Boston and who has published papers starting in 2009 about “hidden hearing loss,” papers that broke open the Congressional log-jam that prevented significant funding going into hearing disorders. His company has raised an eye-popping $228 million in venture capital–that’s a LOT for an early-stage company–and now they’ve gotten approval from the Food and Drug Administration to fast-track trials of their first product.

But Frequency Therapeutics isn’t the only company in this space. I recently saw information at an investor conference showing that another half dozen companies have also raised significant amounts of venture capital for hearing-disorder treatments. Collectively, they’ve raised over a quarter of a billion dollars! That’s extraordinary progress for a long overlooked sector where nothing seemed to happen for decades and where the only treatment option for decades were extraordinarily expensive hearing aids from a handful of powerful companies charging inflated prices no one could afford.

Now there’s an active market and venture capitalists are diving in! That is a real sign of progress!

Thanks are due to the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology that in 2016 published a report on the noise-induced hearing loss market, and to the National Academy of Medicine report on hearing loss in America that issued a few months later. Those two reports also led to the bi-partisan Warren-Grassley OTC Hearing Aid Act that President Trump signed into law in 2018 and that goes in to effect in January 2020. That act, in turn, has created a surge of investment in personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs, which are high-tech ‘hearing aids’ you’ll soon be able to buy from your local drug store for 1/10th the price of conventional hearing aids.

Change is here!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Starting January, help comes to the hard of hearing at your local drug store

Photo credit: Kateweb licensed under CC BY 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This New York Times article is a wake-up call to all Americans with hearing loss: Starting January 2020, and for 1/10th the price of conventional–and ugly–hearing aids, you can buy “hearing assistive devices” at your local drug store or directly online. The innovation economy has finally come to the hidebound hearing aid industry!

And we can thank a genuinely bi-partisan team in Congress for making this happen. Charles Grassley, Republican from Iowa, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, teamed up in late 2016 to write the “Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act,” pushed it through both houses of Congress, and in 2017 convinced President Trump to sign it.

Thank you Senators Grassley and Warren!

What this Act does is tell the FDA to keep its regulatory hands off of a new class of hearing-assistive devices called “personal sound amplification products,” or PSAPs. PSAPs are miniaturized, multi-featured wireless high-tech in-ear devices that do lots of things conventional hearing aids don’t do, and all for about 1/10th the price of conventional hearing aids.

Maybe deregulation works after all!  In this case, it’s good-old-fashioned bi-partisanship that got the deal done.

So if you or a loved one really need hearing aids but haven’t been able or willing to spend the $5,000 to $10,000 the hearing aid cartel has been charging, now’s your chance to tune into the world of sounds you or they have been missing. Check it out!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.