sounds of the city

NGA wants a global map for ambient sound

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency wants to map the world's ambient sounds.

The NGA Research Directorate’s Environment and Culture pod wants to "leverage new and emerging technologies to characterize spatial-temporal patterns in sounds and develop corresponding foundational geospatial datasets," the agency said in a request for information. 

The same way technology can classify the location and characteristics of gunshots or different species of birds in a small area, NGA wants to be able to use technology to record, classify and map ambient sounds and acoustic features. The automated effort would result in accurate baseline soundscapes for locations worldwide.

Some of NGA's specific areas of interest include:

  • New and existing data sources for geotagged audio data, including sounds within and near the audible range.
  • Approaches for categorizing classes of sounds at different spatial and temporal scales.
  • Approaches for developing aggregate acoustic signatures of places.
  • Data models and scalable architectures to efficiently collect, store, and geospatially analyze acoustic and ambient sound data at multiple spatial scales

With an acoustic map, users could match sound data from unknown locations to potential places of origin. IT could also be used in navigation, augmented reality and accessibility applications, the RFI said.

Other agencies have used sound mapping to describe the soundscape in particular areas.  The Department of Transportation's National Transportation Noise Map pulls data from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Highway Administration into a GIS program to show noise levels from traffic and aviation across the country. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's SoundMap depicts temporal, spatial and spectral characteristics of underwater noise created by human activity.

In The Sounds of New York City project, researchers use big-data analytics to create maps of sounds based on sensor data and citizen reporting to help the city understand and control noise more effectively.

Read the NGA's RFI here.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA from West Chester University and an MA in English from the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at smiller@gcn.com or @sjaymiller.

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