You are here

Factory Noise Removal to Preserve Situational Awareness

Award Information
Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
Branch: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Contract: 1R43OH012084-01
Agency Tracking Number: R43OH012084
Amount: $149,949.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: NIOSH
Solicitation Number: PA19-272
Solicitation Year: 2019
Award Year: 2020
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2020-09-01
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2021-02-28
Small Business Information
Bedford, MA 01730-1417
United States
DUNS: 837257039
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: No
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 (781) 861-7827
Business Contact
Phone: (781) 861-7827
Research Institution

According to the CDC NIOSH website “Occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-
related illnesses in the United States.” This is due, in part, to significant numbers of workers exposed to
hazardous noise levels in the workplace not using hearing protection devices (HPDs). A National Health and
Nutrition Examination Survey estimated that over 20 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise lev-
els at work annually, and one-third of those workers reported non-use of HPDs. In the construction industry,
half report being exposed to hazardous noise levels but, of those, one-third report not wearing any HPDs and
one quarter have a hearing impairment. Likewise, in manufacturing, about half report exposure to hazardous
noise levels, but one quarter don’t wear protection and 20% have a hearing impairment. Our experience is that
the non-use of HPDs on factory floors is often not due to the cost of such devices or lack of availability. In
many cases, ear plugs and other HPDs can be seen hanging around a worker’s neck or stuffed in a pocket!
The problem is that, in addition to blocking hazardous sounds, HPDs also block all other sounds in the environ-
ment. This is important because awareness of alarms (e.g., assembly line jams, backing forklifts, and moving
cranes) is critical for physical safety and job performance in these industries. We propose a novel hearing
protection system that provides enhanced access to “situational” sounds such as alarms, forklifts and
voices, while suppressing hazardously loud noises. By overcoming the environmental-awareness obstacle, we
believe workers will be more willing to wear our HPD. Our solution uses innovative and patented signal pro-
cessing technologies to “scrub” hazardously loud sounds, each of which has been “tagged” by an adjacent
microphone, from the response mixtures of other “environmental” microphones placed in more acoustically
diverse locations in the workspace. This scrubbing process removes the tagged noises from the response sig-
nals of the environmental microphones, thereby enhancing the audibility of the other important sounds in the
environment. The envisioned commercial product will perform such scrubbing and then present the remaining
situational sounds in a worker’s ear using existing acoustically isolating headphones. In the Phase I project, we
propose to construct, validate, and scrub a sequence of increasingly complex audio mixtures made up of typi-
cal loud machinery sounds plus softer situational sounds. Our ability to scrub the loud noises from those mix-
tures will be objectively measured. In Aim 1, the mixtures are constructed from pairs of recorded noise and
situational sound. In Aim 2, we will record and analyze sound pairs generated in a machine shop. In Aim 3, we
will “push the envelope”, both by increasing the number and complexity of noise and signal components in the
mixtures and by moving situational sources and changing room acoustics. Our metric of success is the
improvement in the broadband signal to interference ratio (SIR) of the scrubbed mixtures and a characteriza-
tion of the environments in which this scrubbing can produce greatly enhanced situational awareness.Narrative:
Factory Noise Removal to Preserve Situational Awareness
Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent occupation-related injuries. We will develop an advanced
audio-processing system for high-noise workplace environments to deliver enhanced situational sounds
of the workerandapos;s environment by removing the hazardously loud noises and presenting via common wifi-
enabled hearing protection. This will enable workers to hear both voices and important sounds such as
alarms and backing forklifts, while still protecting their hearing.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

US Flag An Official Website of the United States Government