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Researchers Invent Noise-Cancelling Windows for City Dwellers

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Now you can sleep, even when the city doesn’t.

A frequent complaint of those who visit large cities is that it’s simply too loud. Even if you’re in a high-rise apartment, the constant noise of cars, construction, pedestrians, and whatever else can cause quite a racket whenever you open a window, and sometimes even when you don’t. Unfortunately, you can’t spend your entirely life wearing noise cancelling headphones (I’ve tried), so there’s no way to filter all the noise out. At least, there was no way before.

Researchers out of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, a city-state rife with frequent noise complaints, have developed the world’s first noise-cancelling windows. It works very similarly to noise-cancelling headphones, which filter out background noise by producing a soft tone. By mounting a series of speakers in a window frame that activate whenever persistent noise is detected, the window becomes a sort of acoustic shield, blocking out the noise with noise of its own, albeit noise that you can’t hear. The cool thing is that this system works whether the window is open or closed, so if you need lighting or ventilation, you can open the window without exposing yourself to the cacophony.

“We hope that this active noise control system encourages the increased adoption of natural ventilation without the drawback of increasing noise exposure in cities,” study lead and acoustic engineer Bhan Lam told Inside Science.

Currently, the prototype design reduces ambient outside noise by about ten decibels, though it’s not quite perfect yet. A consistent problem the researchers have run into is that the system only really works on sustained sounds like passing trains or construction work. Spontaneous noise like barking dogs are too short for the system to pick up. After publishing their initial findings in Scientific Reports, the research team is currently in the midst of live-fire testing. If they can make this work, it could drastically reduce noise pollution in cities, which medical researchers believe could be beneficial for city dwellers’ health in the long run.