60-Second Tech

Mimicking Ear Makes Mobile Calls Clear

The earSmart source separation system makes many mobile phone calls easier to understand in noisy situations. Larry Greenemeier reports

If you've ever been on the phone in a crowded room…hold on…

As I was saying, background noise can really ruin a phone conversation.

With that problem in mind, Mountain View, Calif.-based Audience, Inc., developed earSmart. It's a voice processor embedded in about 50 different mobile phone models designed to enhance voice quality while suppressing background noise.

In fact, earSmart is what enabled Apple to include Siri in the iPhone 4S, according to

Audience founder and chief scientist Lloyd Watts told me recently that earSmart's design came from studying the brain's auditory pathways.

"The approach that we took to building the business and the technology was start with the science, figure out what the brain is doing to do source separation—not necessarily calling it noise reduction but just separating sources from each other. And then we found an application for that in noise reduction. So we didn’t start off saying let’s use multiple microphones to do noise reduction. We said, let’s figure out how the brain separates sounds from other sounds in a fully general way, and then we found that it could be used for noise reduction.”

If only they could filter out annoying cell phone users, too.

—Larry Greenemeier

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.] 

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