Tag Archive: David Sykes

Quiet motorcycles? Tell your neighbor to buy one of these…

Photo credit: Jan Ainali licensed under CC BY 3.0

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, and Jamie Banks, Program Director, The Quiet Coalition

You may be thinking, “quiet motorcycles…how is that possible?” In fact, they already exist—but you might have trouble getting a Harley-riding neighbor to embrace them. For many bikers, noise equals power. But in the case of electric motorcycles there is reason to believe that quiet is powerful too!

Lithium ion battery-powered motorcycles are gaining favor–Consumer Reports is impressed with them. Furthermore, the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on camo-painted, “stealth” hybrid gas/electric off-road motorbikes.

Motorcycle noise is a serious problem—especially for people who suffer from auditory disorders like partial hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, and misophonia–for whom the racket from motorcycles can be excruciatingly painful. This may be bikers themselves or people who live in neighborhoods that are regularly exposed to this type of noise. Several years ago, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) convened a meeting about the problem of motorcycle noise and issued a report in 2014, though it seems to have fallen on deaf ears outside the NAE.

The noise has become such a problem in so many communities that even Harley-Davidson’s CEO has spoken out about Hog riders who remove their factory mufflers and install ‘straight pipes.’ Officially, the company doesn’t approve of owners tampering with the factory-installed mufflers, but after-market manufacturers are all-too-willing to meet consumer demand for more noise. The best news is that Harley-Davidson is developing an electric-powered motorcycle too.

Motorcycle noise may be a problem that regulation simply cannot fix. Given the current situation, it is unlikely the Environmental Protection Agency will be able to do anything about it. Instead, The Quiet Coalition (TQC) recommends framing motorcycle noise as a public health issue and encouraging a positive, technology-centered approach by businesses:

  • Become familiar with the large body of scientific literature indicating that loud noise is a public health problem. Authorities, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, publicize this information on their websites. Like tobacco smoke a generation ago, it will be necessary to engage public health officials before the motorcycle noise be addressed.
  • Urge individuals and groups that oppose motorcycle noise to encourage businesses to develop quieter, electric-powered alternatives. They are cheaper to operate (solar power is getting cheaper by the minute!) and much easier to maintain or repair (fewer moving parts!).

We believe these two steps are the best, most practical way to get action on this contentious issue and can actually lead to results. For example, The Quiet Coalition’s host, non-profit Quiet Communities, has been helping communities make the quiet transition away from fossil-fuel powered devices (namely landscape maintenance equipment) and towards advanced electric equipment and manual tools and emphasizing the compelling business model for users: the new lithium-ion-powered alternatives are cheaper to operate and maintain, they reduce air pollution, and they operate quietly. For some bikers, adopting technologically advanced, non-polluting, quiet alternatives may be appealing, especially if they have had health and hearing problems related to noisy bikes. It would be the start of a movement.

At TQC, we’re cautiously optimistic.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Jamie Banks, PhD, MSc, is the Executive Director of Quiet Communities, Inc.. She is an environmentalist and health care scientist dedicated to promoting clean, healthy, quiet, and sustainable landscape maintenance, construction, and agricultural practices.

How research, technology, and finance are fueling the new world of hearables

Copyright 2016 www.hearable.world

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

“For the last 40 years, there’s been very little movement, if any at all on [hearing loss]… and there [are] fundamental regulatory forces in place here that are subject to inertia. …. Now, just literally within the last year, …we’ve seen more movement on this issue than essentially in the last 50 years of U.S. history.”

–Frank Lin, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Otolaryngology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (July 2016)

In the U.S. we grew accustomed to noise and noise-induced hearing loss being ignored. Nothing much happened for three and a half decades after 1981 when, for political reasons, noise and its effects became verboten—serious people wouldn’t talk about it and researchers couldn’t find money to explore it. But lately, what venture capitalists call a “convergence” has occurred—a confluence of research, technology development, and novel sources of financial support (i.e., crowdfunding). And this convergence is creating a surge of interest in this long-ignored subject.

What is going on? Why are some of us so excited about this? Where are we headed? How does this help (or hurt) people who are concerned with the need to control noise, peoples’ exposure to noise, and people who suffer from hearing disorders like tinnitus, hyperacusis, and misophonia? If you follow the writing of The Quiet Coalition’s chairman, Daniel Fink, MD, you may recall that he first wrote about this subject last May. In short, personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are a positive, exciting step in the right direction. But they will not and cannot solve the larger problem of noise and noise-induced hearing loss in America.

First: What’s going on?

Did it start with research? In 2009, two researchers at Harvard’s Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Charles Liberman, PhD, and Sharon Kujawa, PhD, published a paper revealing that “synaptopathy”, i.e., permanent nerve damage to the nerves that connect the ears to the brain, actually happened at lower noise levels than previously assumed and in the neurological circuits that can’t be seen in an audiological exam (audiologists can only see the pinna, the external auditory canal and the tympanic membrane—after that all has been a big mystery).

As a result, something called “hidden hearing loss” suddenly caught the attention of the policy makers who funded the research. Abruptly, the idea that noise caused only “temporary” damage, i.e., that the ear could recover from what has for decades been called a “Temporary Threshold Shift,” appeared to be really wrong. Hearing damage to nerves is always permanent and, at least until cures are found, irreparable. This caused a shift toward neuroscience research and toward the search for potential cures in partnership with the drug industry.

Did it start with technology innovators? Sony’s phenomenally successful Walkman (launched in 1977, forty years ago) started it, but then Apple’s iPod caused an explosion in the use of “earbuds” for “personal listening.” These wired earbuds were incredibly popular but always troublesome to wear because of the wires, so R&D types began trying to figure out how to get rid of the wires. Then “wireless” arrived. Called “Bluetooth,” it was developed in Sweden (the name “Bluetooth” is a tribute to the ancient King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark who unified parts of Scandinavia). But even wireless earbuds were essentially “dumb” speakers. Eventually, other restless R&D types began exploring what else, with increasingly miniaturized circuit designs, those wireless earbuds could do for you if you thought about the ear as a “portal” for transmitting information to the brain. From that work was born the idea of the PSAP.

But how did an idea turn into a blossoming industry called “wearables” or “hearables” in which at least seventeen companies are now scrambling for your attention? The answer? Money.

Did it start with the idea of “crowdsourcing” money to develop next-generation, smart “earbuds”? Look closely at the chart above and you’ll see that many pioneering PSAP companies currently vying for your attention are financed by “crowdsourcing” campaigns (e.g., Kickstarter and others). Another funding approach now available to companies in this emerging sector is the new SEC-approved “equity crowdsourcing” venture-finance companies, which have only been able to operate since late 2016 in the USA (earlier elsewhere). In other words, now there are whole new ways to start and fund a tech company that do not rely on traditional venture capitalists—those people who traditionally funded lots of other tech companies, but who have had, until now, little interest in hearing technologies because the hearing technology market has been stuck in a rut for three and a half decades.

In truth, all three of these phenomena—research, technology innovation, and capital–occurred independently. But now they have converged and are beginning to affect—and disrupt—existing markets, such as the market for hearing aids.  Hearing aids are over-priced, limited production devices generally aimed at older people and manufactured by a group of six companies (“the cartel” or “The Big Six”) who dominate the industry and make 98% of the world’s hearing aids—in other words, this is a market ripe for disruption.

Now add a fourth catalyst: Regulatory change. Eleven months ago (June 2016), the National Academy of Medicine published a significant report about the emerging, disruptive technology of PSAPs and attempted to warn audiologists, hearing aid manufacturers, and others who have been comfortably ensconced in this stable, profitable but uninteresting market that things are about to change. Then, a few months later two U.S. Senators introduced a bi-partisan bill intended to accelerate transformation of this market. It’s called “The Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Act,” and it was introduced by Senators Warren (D-MA) and Grassley (R-IA). This act specifically seeks to streamline the market for “hearables”/PSAPs by exempting them from FDA regulation and enabling them to be sold direct to consumers, i.e., “over the counter,” without medical intervention.

But wait, what does this story have to do with our interest in noise control, in ending harmful exposure to noise, in your and your family’s hearing health? Do these new PSAP devices provide some relief for people who already suffer from noise-induced hearing loss? Can they prevent further damage from exposure?

Answer: A big maybe.

Keep in mind that the first word in PSAP is “personal”—these devices only address your noise problem, they don’t solve the noise problem for anyone else. If you travel to work on a noisy subway system, it’s possible some of these PSAP devices may provide you with some relief in the form of an active noise cancellation feature. If you can’t understand conversation in a noisy restaurant, some of the PSAP devices may be able to help you screen out background cacophony and focus on the person who’s speaking to you. In short, PSAPs include a wide array of features that might interest you. They are marketed as wireless earbuds that allow you to optimize “the way you hear the world,” and not as hearing aids, because they cannot be advertised as “hearing aids”—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits that. Only a “hearing aid” from one of “The Big Six” can be sold as a “hearing aid”—and only those six companies worldwide make devices that are labeled that way.

So “Caveat Emptor” (buyer beware) if you’re interested in trying one of the new PSAPs! This is exciting stuff and they cost less than 1/10th the price of conventional hearing aids. Furthermore, at least two of these companies, Doppler Labs (HERE One) and Nuheara (IQbuds), already have products on the market, so you can actually try out a pair of wireless earbuds and see for yourself.

But do they address the larger social problem that noise has gotten out of hand in America? That we’re all besieged, victimized, permanently injured by too much noise? To this, the answer is definitely “no.” You and a few others might get some relief, but PSAPs are not a solution to the noise problem in America.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). Mr. Sykes spent several decades in private equity, venture finance, and technology development and has a keen interest in how convergence and disruption affect traditional industries.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

National Parks: Why quiet matters

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

On May 4, Science and Phys.org™ published news reports about a recent, significant, multi-year study about the pervasiveness of noise pollution in 492 national parks and natural areas across the U.S.

In “Noise Pollution is invading even the most protected natural areas,” Science writer Ula Chrobak notes that:

The great outdoors is becoming a lot less peaceful. Noise pollution from humans has doubled sound levels in more than half of all protected areas in the United States—from local nature reserves to national parks—and it has made some places 10 times louder, according to a new study. And the cacophony isn’t just bad for animals using natural sounds to hunt and forage—it could also be detrimental to human health.

Under the study, researchers from the National Park Service and Colorado State University “recorded noise at 492 sites across the country with varying levels of protection, [and] used the recordings to predict noise throughout protected areas in the rest of the country.” They also estimated naturally occurring ambient noise and compared the noise levels with and without humanmade noise. The results were damning: noise pollution doubled sound levels in 63% of protected areas and caused a 10-fold increase in 21% of protected areas.

And the impacts of that noise pollution affect all living things withing these areas.  Phys.org reports interviews Rachel Buxton, the study’s lead author and post-doctoral researcher, who states that “[t]he noise levels we found can be harmful to visitor experiences in these areas, and can be harmful to human health, and to wildlife.” The noise pollution findings means that “noise reduced the area that natural sounds can be heard by 50 to 90 percent,” which “also means that what could be heard at 100 feet away could only be heard from 10 to 50 feet.”

So what is the impact on humans and wildlife?  Phys.org explains:

This reduced capacity to hear natural sound reduces the restorative properties of spending time in nature, such as mood enhancement and stress reduction, interfering with the enjoyment typically experienced by park visitors. Noise pollution also negatively impacts wildlife by distracting or scaring animals, and can result in changes in species composition.

High levels of noise pollution were also found in critical habitat for endangered species, namely in endangered plant and insect habitats. “Although plants can’t hear, many animals that disperse seeds or pollinate flowers can hear, and are known to be affected by noise, resulting in indirect impacts on plants,” said Buxton.

The study results have been widely reported, showing that there is real interest in protecting our national parks and natural areas.  Researchers know that “many people don’t really think of noise pollution as pollution,” but they hope that this study will encourage more people to “consider sound as a component of the natural environment.”

The National Park Service’s huge portfolio of parks and natural areas provides a huge canvas for researchers concerned about the impacts of “noise pollution.” You may be surprised to learn that the National Park Service has a research division called “Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division” that has been looking for several years at the effects of noise not only on visitor experiences, but also on plants and animals. Their work is fascinating and resulted in a 2014 report from the National Academy of Engineering called “Preserving National Park Soundscapes.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Looking for a quiet restaurant? Wall St. values this “quiet” chain at $7.5 billion

Photo credit: Mike Mozart CC by 2.0

By David Sykes, Vice-chair, The Quiet Coalition

Yearn for a quiet spot to dine where you can chat (or read) without clamour? If that seems hopeless in America’s noisy restaurants don’t give up—change is on the way.

It’s true that for decades restaurants in America have gotten louder and more cacophonous on purpose. Why? Restaurateurs and their designers say data show that profits climb when noise levels are high because their patrons are:

  1. attracted by the “buzz,”
  2. drink more alcohol,
  3. consume more food faster, and
  4. leave quickly, allowing more patrons to sit down and repeat the process.

True or not, those crowded, noisy eateries are designed to be that way. The good news is that, just as easily, they can be designed to be quiet. The bad news is that so many restaurateurs still don’t understand that the racket drives away large groups of potential patrons, and also alienates restaurant reviewers, some of whom now even carry sound level meters.

Is there such a thing as a successful quiet restaurant chain? One that profits from allowing patrons to converse with each other or read a book, or put a laptop on the table and work quietly–even at peak dining hours? Amazingly, yes. It’s one that already has 2000 stores, is the hottest “fast-casual” chain in America, and is growing faster than Starbucks. The name? Panera. Panera’s stores don’t pretend to be fashionable bistros nor do they serve alcohol. But the food is healthy, natural, fresh, and tasty and the atmosphere is definitely—and, according to acoustics experts, very consciously—designed to provide a haven where people can enjoy quiet conversations and each other without cacophony.

Quiet dining matters to lots of us—more folks than you might imagine. In fact, about 20% of people in their 20s suffer from hearing disorders (which can include hypersensitivities to noise with names like tinnitus, hyperacusis, and misophonia, conditions that make it impossible for them to enjoy restaurants or clubs). And about 50% of people in their 60s and an extraordinary 90% of people in their 80s suffer from an inability to understand speech when background noise levels are elevated. These are not “fringe” groups. Collectively, there are 40 million Americans who probably avoid dining in restaurants because they literally can’t stand the noise.

Do restaurant owners understand that? If they did, they might create quiet sections to broaden their market appeal. Many apparently do not. For those who do, the market opportunity may be considerable.

It just could be that “quiet dining” is the next trend.  For customers looking for quiet, the prospects are mouth-watering.

If you’d like to know how to make a restaurant quieter, check out: Why Acoustics are Important in Restaurant Design and Restaurant Acoustics: Restaurant Noise Reduction by Audimute.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Progress Made Against Hospital Noise

By The Quiet Coalition

Some people care most about airport noise. Others focus on noise in schools or restaurants or stadiums. But one group of about 500 professionals has spent twelve years reducing noise in America’s hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Of course, airport noise is a public health problem—especially for people living near America’s 5,194 airports–but noise is a serious public health problem indoors too. This is particularly so for people whose health is compromised, i.e., the millions of patients in America’s 62,414 hospitals and healthcare facilities, not to mention the quarter-million medical and support staff who work there amid the din.

Healthcare facilities are oftentimes the noisiest, most sleep-deprived places you will find anywhere. Have you tried sleeping in an older-style hospital recently? Furthermore, the noise problem has escalated steadily for decades thanks to the burgeoning use of new technologies such as alarmed medical devices.

Fortunately, a group of about 500 professionals known as the FGI Acoustics Working Group has been working continuously for twelve years to address noise in healthcare facilities. So this story contains good news.

The group published it’s first comprehensive noise control criteria in 2010, which were quickly adopted by most states. To hear the difference, visit just about any recently constructed hospital and compare it to an older hospital.  The group’s criteria have now been “exported” to eighty-seven other countries that struggle with the same indoor noise problems (this was accomplished through partnerships with the International Code Council, the US Green Building Council’s LEED for Health Care initiative, and other groups).

But this group’s crusade against noise is not over. This November 2017, they and their hosts will publish more detailed and updated noise control criteria in three separate volumes, one covering America’s 5,564 hospitals, one for the country’s 25,750 healthcare clinics, and another one for it’s 31,100 residential care facilities. If you’re interested you can see their latest work here, FGI Bulletin #2, and here in their first edition (published in 2012).

The Quiet Coalition is proud that its chair, vice chair, and another TQC co-founder are both involved in leading this important work. According to our vice chair, David Sykes, “this decade-long work shows that a broad coalition of interested professionals–in this case, consisting of doctors, nurses, patients and families, public health advocates, hospital administrators, researchers, regulatory agency personnel, lawyers, planners, architects, engineers, designers, and contractors–can achieve meaningful, national progress toward ending the long-ignored public health problem of noise by taking a focused approach and addressing the needs of people who are particularly vulnerable.”

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Walden, the video game?

Photo credit: Sarah Nichols

David Sykes, the vice-chair of The Quiet Coalition, muses about Walden, the video game, and how trying times compel us to seek stillness and tranquility.  So how exactly does Walden the video game differ from Grand Theft Auto? Like this:

Instead of offering the thrills of stealing, violence and copious cursing, the new video game, based on Thoreau’s 19th-century retreat in Massachusetts, will urge players to collect arrowheads, cast their fishing poles into a tranquil pond, buy penny candies and perhaps even jot notes in a journal — all while listening to music, nature sounds and excerpts from the author’s meditations.

And if you don’t leave enough “time for contemplation, or work too hard, the game cautions: ‘Your inspiration has become low, but can be regained by reading, attending to sounds of life in the distance, enjoying solitude and interacting with visitors, animal and human.’”

Kudos and best of luck to lead designer, Tracy J. Fullerton, the director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, and her team.

We know open plan offices are an office worker’s nightmare, so what can we do about it?

David Sykes, vice chair of The Quiet Coalition, gives us a solution in his post about office noise and how to fix it. He writes about being part of a group that worked “with the largest provider of workplaces for office workers in America, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).” Sykes states:

GSA houses over 1,000,000 federal office workers in 2,200 communities across the nation, and they survey those office workers regularly about their working conditions. Consequently, if office workers are miserable and distracted, GSA knows about it. Based on over 20,000 survey responses, they learned that noise and lack of privacy were office workers’ biggest complaints.

Importantly, the GSA did something about it.  Namely, it commissioned “Sound Matters,” a guide that helps to address the “open landscape dilemma.”  Sykes adds that Harvard’s School of Public Health has started a research program called “Buildingomics” to understand the impact of “Indoor Environmental Quality” on office workers’ health and performance.

To learn how these resources can help you address workplace noise and distraction, click the first link for the full post.