Automating the War on Noise Pollution

Article by Linda Poon: “Any city dweller is no stranger to the frequent revving of motorbikes and car engines, made all the more intolerable after the months of silence during pandemic lockdowns. Some cities have decided to take action. 

Paris police set up an anti-noise patrol in 2020 to ticket motorists whose vehicles exceed a certain decibel level, and soon, the city will start piloting the use of noise sensors in two neighborhoods. Called Medusa, each device uses four microphones to detect and measure noise levels, and two cameras to help authorities track down the culprit. No decibel threshold or fines will be set during the three-month trial period, according to French newspaper Liberation, but it’ll test the potentials and limits of automating the war on sound pollution.

Cities like Toronto and Philadelphia are also considering deploying similar tools. By now, research has been mounting about the health effects of continuous noise exposure, including links to high blood pressure and heart disease, and to poor mental health. And for years, many cities have been tackling noise through ordinances and urban design, including various bans on leaf blowers, on construction at certain hours and on cars. Some have even hired “night mayors” to, among other things, address complaints about after-hours noise.

But enforcement, even with the help of simple camera-and-noise radars, has been a challenge. Since 2018,  the Canadian city of Edmonton has been piloting the use of four radars attached to light poles at busy intersections in the downtown area. A 2021 report on the second phase of the project completed in 2020, found that officials had to manually sift through the data to take out noise made by, say, sirens. And the recordings didn’t always provide strong enough evidence against the offender in court. It was also costly: The pilot cost taxpayers $192,000, while fines generated a little more than half that amount, according to CTV News Edmonton.

Those obstacles have made noise pollution an increasingly popular target for smart city innovation, with companies and researchers looking to make environmental monitoring systems do more than just measure decibel levels…(More)”.