Sounds of New York City Collaborates with Loft to Combat Noise Pollution


Sounds of New York City Collaborates with Loft to Combat Noise Pollution


Sounds of New York City Collaborates with Loft to Combat Noise Pollution


Car horns honking in the middle of the night. Sirens blaring outside the window when you’re trying to have a video call. The thunder of jackhammers making it impossible for teams meeting in a boardroom to hear each other.

New York is a city that truly never sleeps – not just because of its vibrant nightlife, but because it is rife with what is known as noise pollution. This problem is not limited to New York, of course, but in a groundbreaking project led by NYU scientists are investigating practical solutions to address it.

This involves not only harnessing the power of machine learning and big data, but creating a viable platform for collecting and analyzing noise. Loft provided the engineering and manufacturing expertise that is allowing those leading Sounds of New York City (SONYC) to listen in ways that could one day benefit urban dwellers across the country.

The Client

The Customer

Taking aim at New Yorkers’ biggest civic complaint — noise — a team of scientists from NYU, working with collaborators at Ohio State University, have launched a first-of-its-kind comprehensive research initiative to understand and address noise pollution in New York and beyond.

The multi-year project — which received a $4.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation and has the support of City health and environmental agencies — involves large-scale noise monitoring. Using a combination of machine learning technology, big data analysis, and citizen science reporting effectively monitor, analyze, and mitigate urban noise pollution.

Noise pollution is one of the topmost quality of life issues for urban residents in the United States. It has been estimated that nine out of 10 adults in New York City (NYC) are exposed to excessive noise levels, which is beyond the limit of what the EPA considers to be harmful. When applied to U.S. cities of more than four million inhabitants, such estimates extend to over 72 million urban residents.

The Something Type into

The Challenge

The first step to mitigating noise pollution was to understand the sounds that were causing harm in the first place. The SONYC team needed a way to collect urban noise data. This meant being able to hang a sensitive acoustic sensor with electronics, and wireless communication features from as high as a 37th floor New York apartment window.

Given the experimental and innovative nature of the project, SONYC needed a system that would include a hybrid, distributed network of sensors that citizens could easily use for large-scale noise reporting. These units would have to leverage apps that help them connect to the city and each other in an effective and responsive manner, while sensors would have to make use of cutting-edge machine listening methods to constantly provide a rich description of their acoustic environment.

SONYC also needed a design that would allow many units to be produced, and which could be further developed based on the early results of the research and those participating in it.

The Impact

The Solution

The SONYC team collaborated with Loft to develop a rugged, easy to install IIOT (Industrial Internet Of Things) urban noise collection network — essentially a smart sound level meter that New Yorkers could easily mount outside their windows. Using cell networks, the devices collect and process noise in affected neighborhoods.

Inside the device, a compact and powerful computer processes the initial data before sending it to the cloud via an integrated cellular antenna. The enclosure is gasket sealed for protection against the elements, and a waterproof membrane protects the microphone while allowing sound to be transmitted without distortion.

Information from the network flows through cyber-infrastructure that analyzes, retrieves and visualizes data to facilitate the identification of important patterns of noise pollution: a noise “mission control” center of sorts, intended for decision-makers at city agencies to strategically deploy the human resources at their disposal to act on the physical world.

The Impact

The Results

Loft built 100 initial production units which were deployed to New Yorker’s homes, collecting noise information across the city. Thanks to SONYC’s expertise in big data, insights from the analysis of all this urban noise data will be communicated to city agencies tasked with enforcing the city's noise code.

With a distributed network of sensors, citizens engaging in the data collection efforts, cutting edge analysis, and the cooperation of city officials, the SONYC project has an opportunity to make a big impact on the lives of New Yorkers.

Some of benefits of Loft’s work on the SONYC project include:

A cohesive, simple user-centric experience

It was important to everyone involved with SONYC that the study of noise pollution didn’t come at the expense of citizen’s privacy. Loft’s design and engineering work, which included the development of a custom microphone, ensured that the devices which were deployed would focus on capturing exterior noise. When a study participant set up the device at their apartment, for instance, the work Loft did shielded the microphone so that it wouldn’t pick up what was going on inside their home.

A versatile, rugged platform that allows for reuse

Unlike a satellite TV antenna or more permanent fixture, SONYC needed a device that study participants could install for a limited time. This could be tied to a specific event, such as when they first moved into a new apartment or when a nearby construction project was getting under way.

Loft’s design work made it easy for the units to be removed and mounted at other sites. A fully waterproof housing, meanwhile, offered protection from weather factors such as rain, hail or snow.

A streamlined ability to collect and analyze actionable data

No one living in a city like New York is expecting constant silence, but Loft’s work with SONYC means it’s possible to take a data-driven approach to striking a better balance in terms of noise pollution. The data collected by the units Loft designed, for example, can help municipal leaders determine whether they should have an ordinance that halts construction at a particular time in the evening. This contributes to the evolution of a truly smart city that respects the needs of businesses and everyday citizens alike.

Loft’s engineering and manufacturing expertise helped the project reach critical scale and reduce cost. These sensors will help accelerate data collection, train the AI system, and get meaningful noise feedback to NYC policy makers. With any luck, the city that never sleeps can finally get some shut eye.

The Impact

The Impact


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