Computer-manipulated speech could lead to quieter public announcements


September 10, 2013

Scientists have developed a method of accentuating only the parts of speech that people really need to hear (Photo: Shutterstock)

Scientists have developed a method of accentuating only the parts of speech that people really need to hear (Photo: Shutterstock)

Places like airports and train stations aren’t known for their tranquility, and that’s largely because of the constant barrage of loud announcements made over their PA systems. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh, however, have helped develop a system that may allow those announcements to still be heard, but at a lower volume.

According to the researchers, when people are able to understand spoken messages in noisy environments, they’re not necessarily hearing everything that’s being said. Instead they pick up on the components of speech that are the easiest to hear, and deduce what the words and sentences are, based on those.

With that in mind, the scientists developed a “mathematical computer program” that synthetically enhances those components, allowing them to stand out more from the background noise. When tested, it was found that spoken messages manipulated by the program could be clearly understood at a volume up to five decibels lower than would otherwise be possible.

It has been suggested that the technology could be useful not only for PA systems, but also for devices such as smartphones and navigation systems.

Source: University of Edinburgh

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Could definitely use something like that in the NYC subway, where announcements are notoriously unintelligible most of the time. Of course, some of that can be blamed on apathetic announcers.


Being hard of hearing I can seldom even understand public announcements. How about a phone app to get them in text?

Leif Knutsen

A wonderful idea, being a 'senior' I am not really able to understand announcement at airports etc, when they blair out I just look for a readout to see what is going on. Anything that lowers the noise level is a good idea as it is always easier to understand what information is not shouted.

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