Auto-Shutoff Safety Headphones

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by monster_catfish, Jun 26, 2013.

  1. monster_catfish

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 17, 2011
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    An account in one of yesterday's UK newspapers, reporting the death of an 11-year old school girl who failed to hear an approaching truck due to the stereo ear-phones she wore while crossing a busy street, got me wondering about the feasibility of designing noise-sensitive headphones or stereo ear-plugs that would automatically fall silent if an adjustable theshold of ambient noise is detected.

    There are apparently quite a few kids every year that do get run over crossing the street, on account of being immersed in their own world of music, via a blasting pair of ear-plugs, despite all the well-intended manufacturers' warnings that such ear-plugs should never be worn while crossing the street.

    With that common youthful disregard of safety warnings in mind, it occurred to me that there might be a sizeable global market for a purpose-built noise-sensing headphone adapter plug that would instantly mute music inputs to the headphones in situations where traffic noise is detected in close enough proximity to endanger the music-loving kid or adult, enabling the headphone wearer to hear the approaching traffic in time to react and avoid getting hit.

    How difficult would it be to create such a noise-sensing headphone mute circuit, either packaged small and light enough enough to be inserted between the headphones and ipod-style music storage device, or sold as a stand-alone pair of "safety" headphones ?

    Any advice on whether this idea could fly, and how challenging it might be to miniaturize such a device, would be much appreciated.

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. mcgyvr

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 15, 2009
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    "Sounds" (pun intended) like an easy task..

    But I (being the a-hole that I am) am typically against "devices" that sort of encourage the stupid to stay stupid.
     
  3. djsfantasi

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 11, 2010
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    Never mind the potential for liability when they failed to work. (I am in the US where parents of kids who break into schools, sue the school for not having bars on the windows!)
     
  4. tshuck

    Well-Known Member

    Oct 18, 2012
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    I would think it impossible to discern automotive noise from general, ambient noise, so the headphones would become quiet when in a noisy environment was detected: baby crying, wife scolding, birds chirping, etc. So the headphones may very well become quiet when you want them to be anything but!


    Sadly, there is no device that can cure human stupidity....

    What I want is a device that will mute car stereos when emergency vehicles in the vicinity have their sirens on.
     
  5. monster_catfish

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 17, 2011
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    I suppose any product that claims to enhance safety would invite lawsuits if it was improperly used, but still this idea did seem like a good one whose time is overdue, possibly because I have an 8-year old daughter, and could imagine myself in the shoes of the parents of the child that got run over while listening to headphones in the UK a couple of days ago.

    Tshuck that is an important point you make, about how such a device would discern vehicular noise from general human chatter, and I thought about that as well, concluding that it might be possible to incorporate a band-pass filter that would trigger the mute function only if the ambient noise fell within the general bandwidth produced by vehicular traffic.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2013
  6. bountyhunter

    Well-Known Member

    Sep 7, 2009
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    Probably not feasible as the noise coming from the headphones would probably exceed the threshold. In reality, the sound of an approaching truck is quite low. Anything detecting that would be locking the sound off about 99.9% of the time.
     
  7. #12

    Expert

    Nov 30, 2010
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    Think about the sound of an approaching Prius! Only a human brain can make that kind of distinction. A flutter of wind sound from a certain direction, and that flutter is so much quieter than even the slap of your own shoes!

    Great idea. Seemingly impossible to build.
     
  8. monster_catfish

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 17, 2011
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    Bountyhunter I imagine that the first person to devise a circuit capable of making such a hair-splitting distiction between noise spectra would find a ready market for this and other applications.

    My very limited electronics design know-how means I won't be that inventor, but that hasn't stopped me from dreaming up this near-impossible concept.
     
  9. monster_catfish

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 17, 2011
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    #12 I must confess I clean forgot that hybrid and electric powered vehicles are going to become far more prevalent in the future than they are now, and that the virtually silent operation of such vehicles does place this notion of mine into the realms of the un-attainable.

    Oh well, back to the drawing board.
     
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  10. #12

    Expert

    Nov 30, 2010
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    Sad to realize that we have found a limit to how much thoughtless behavior can be fixed by putting a warning label on something or writing a new law against something. I'm afraid Darwin is going to win this one:(
     
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  11. bountyhunter

    Well-Known Member

    Sep 7, 2009
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    I don't believe it would be possible to differentiate the "spectra" of a car from other things, and to be honest, the underlying assumptions here are completely wrong: a person who carelessly walks in front of traffic would likely not be saved by an audio device. The fact is we must look both ways before we walk into traffic or cross a street. Deaf people cross streets with complete safety simply because they are not totally careless, they use common sense. IMHO, this product is a non starter because even under best case scenario, it does not address the cause of the problem. Electronic devices can never completely eradicate brain dead negligence or abject stupidity. The intention here is good, the approach not feasible.
     
  12. BobTPH

    Active Member

    Jun 5, 2013
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    Let's kick it up a notch. How about a camera on a headband and image processing to detect stepping into traffic and supply a non-fatal shock to stop you!

    Bob
     
  13. bountyhunter

    Well-Known Member

    Sep 7, 2009
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    The problem with trying to do this with sounds is that the outside world is a very noisy place. Even without headphones, it's very unlikely a person would hear a truck approaching in most cases because of other noise. Most of the sound a vehicle makes is from the exhaust and it is directed BEHIND the vehicle, not in front. The "sound detection" approach is a non starter.
     
  14. monster_catfish

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 17, 2011
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    Flogging the dead horse some more, I wonder if a tiny sub-sonic, ultra-low frequency vibration sensor, affixed unbotrusively behind the heel on one of the inattentive music-lover's shoes, could transmit a wireless "mute" signal to an integral reciever built into the safety headphones, to create that precious moment of silence needed to restore situational awareness at a traffic crossing.

    A transducer located at ground level, whose input filter stage rejects all ambient sound except the unique, low-frequency rumble of closely approaching vehicles, might be an effective means of avoiding false triggers in a noisy city environment, though I do admit that my inspiration may be the result of watching a few too many episodes of "Myth Busters" on TV.
     
  15. tshuck

    Well-Known Member

    Oct 18, 2012
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    The rumble of a car is not all that unique. I would think the only way this could be implemented (assuming a personal device) would be with a video camera determining whether or not the thing the wearer is approaching matches the characteristics of a street...
     
  16. bountyhunter

    Well-Known Member

    Sep 7, 2009
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    It would go off with each and every foot step of the wearer of the shoes.
     
  17. monster_catfish

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 17, 2011
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    With all the engineering dead-ends pointed out here, it is clear that there is no technological substitute for the application of self-preserving common sense in this instance.

    All the same, I thank you guys for hearing out my idea, despite its being rather far fetched, and ultimately, impractical.
     
  18. bountyhunter

    Well-Known Member

    Sep 7, 2009
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    If this was a true socialist state (as many claim it is anyway) there is simple/cheap tech that could accomplish the goal:

    have every passenger vehicle have a proximity system that sends out an untrasonic signal and have detectors for said signal be mandatory for all teeny bopper appliances like Ipods, cel phones, Ipads and the like. It would make the device beep or flash when close to a car.

    The upside would also be your kid couldn't text in the car.
     
  19. monster_catfish

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Mar 17, 2011
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    Ha ha any device that generates the side-benefit of preventing kids from typing text messages while driving would improve road safety no end, for sure, BountyHunter.

    On a serious note, your brilliant idea of a factory-installed ultrasonic proximity alarm system, if made optional but highly recommended, could catch on with auto makers supplying the West, as they angle for the good PR that comes with erring on the side of public safety.

    Agreements struck between auto manufacturers and the consumer electronics industry could see these life-saving devices adding mere cents to the cost of each new car, and not much more to the price of compatible hand-held devices, but at least thus far, there has been no sign of corporate interest in the subject.
     
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