Thursday, December 13, 2012

Venice Noise heard in Montenegro

Last week, I was invited by the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) of Montenegro to travel to the country's capital of Podgorica, to illustrate a WPI project, called VeniceNoise.org, that was completed at the Venice Project Center exactly one year ago.
The data shown on the web site is crowdsourced through a smartphone app that can be downloaded from the site.
The app allows users to collect a noise sample and a photo of the noise source. The recording is automatically translated onto a dB level thanks to a sophisticated algorithm tailored to the microphone of the specific Android phone used by the 2011 team.
Noise samples can be queued to be uploaded later or they can be submitted instantly to the site, where they appear as small dots when one zooms close enough. If the user turns on the map of the "Noise Zoning" (button at top-right of screen), the samples that exceed the allowed dB levels turn red.
By clicking on a dot (red or green) one gets a little pop-up bubble with the picture of the noise source and a button to play the WAV file of the recording.  A heat map is automatically generated to show areas of high noise intensity (toggle button is also on top right) and a timeline tool is shown at the bottom of the map to play back or select the noise levels by time of day, by day of the week or by month.  Below the timelines is a full list of all the samples, which can be queried using pull-down menus to filter the data in a variety of useful ways.  All in all, this is an extraordinary tool that a talented team of WPI students was able to create from scratch in just two months, based on my initial concept.  Quite an accomplishment!
The VeniceNoise app and web sites were so successful that the City of Boston, for whom we developed the world-famous StreetBump app (soon to be presented at the Urban Data Management Society conference in London), has expressed a serious interest in it, which explains why the VeniceNoise web site has a "Boston Demo" button at the top right of the menu. In fact, when I was the director of the WPI Boston Project Center, we conducted an award-winning project called "Noise Data Farming", which I included in my Montenegro presentation as another example of how we can help the country address the noise problems that apparently are causing negative effects on their tourist industry, by requesting before-and-after noise surveys in conjunction with large construction projects.
A final piece of my UNDP workshop, which was attended by several high-level members of the Montenegro national ministries as well as many mayors from municipalities all over the country, briefly touched upon a paper that I presented years ago at a conference on Visual Analytics in Muenster, Germany, where I proposed an innovative approach to manage outdoor cafe/restaurant seating permits to control nighttime noise.
It was an interesting trip, with lots of connections to past projects of mine, and I hope that UNDP will call us back to help Montenegro become as quiet as Venice is at this time of the year, when fog envelops us and snow starts blanketing the serenissima, just as this year's students are about to leave after yet another successful term at the Venice Project Center.

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