Listening to roads before construction

August 31, 2015, SINTEF
The researcher at SINTEF ICT looks out across a planned road project. Even though there are no cars yet, he can still hear the traffic. Credit: SINTEF ICT

They're going to build a new road right outside your living room window. The authorities have sent you a 'noise map', but what you really need is to hear what the traffic noise will sound like. Well, soon you can.

Being handed a number with a colour-coded noise map is no substitute for actually hearing the you're going to be exposed to. Some young researchers at SINTEF have understood this problem, and are developing a simulation tool that can generate the noise similar to what might be expected from a planned construction project, even before any changes have been made!

Noise kills

Cardiovascular diseases caused by are responsible for the deaths of almost 150 Norwegians every year.

When an airport is planning to increase traffic, or new roads have to be built in residential areas, or when a stretch of the E6 highway has to be redeveloped and moved a few metres, the authorities are quick to make colourful noise maps to show us what the impact will be.

"But this is too abstract for most people", says Erlend Viggen at SINTEF ICT. "And it's difficult to envisage what the noise will really be like. It's much better to generate an artificial noise that people can listen to before construction goes ahead", he says.

Visualising sound

The researchers call this auralisation, or visualising sound. So far they've spent a year, and the institute's own funds, in developing the tool they call MAUS. This is pure simulation software designed to recreate what it's like to be a listener in close proximity to a sound source.

Similar techniques are being used around the world to model the acoustics in concert halls, churches and railway stations before such buildings are constructed. The advantage of this approach is that a construction plan can be improved in advance instead of having to carry out modifications after the building is completed.

Viggen shows us a model of a parking lot on a big screen. "This site is located just over the here close to NTNU", he says. "We've modelled the construction of a road just here", he says, pointing to the screen. "And here's our 'listener', standing right in the middle".

The researchers have made recordings of a car using microphones located on the front and rear bumpers. The car travels at constant speeds of 30, 50 or 80 km/h, and these are the basic sounds that are input to the software.

"If you were standing here as the car passes by, the sound the car makes would change from the time you first hear it to the time it disappears", says Viggen. "We've indicated the different directions that the sound takes from the road to the listener using red lines, which we call sound paths. These are drawn into the model together with other lines indicating situations where sound is reflected and refracted due to the presence of adjacent buildings", he explains.

Then Viggen plays the sound out loud so that we can hear it. It sounds very realistic. He then moves the listener closer to the road and runs the programme again. This time the sound is louder.

What do road repair works sound like?

"If someone wants to repair a road and, let's say, construct a sound screen, local residents can of course look at a map and see how the colour codes change", says Viggen. "But it's still difficult to understand what the changes will really mean", he says.

He quickly inserts a small wall into the simulation model and generates a new audio image.

We can hear the car approaching quietly, and then the sound drops just as the car is behind the wall. As it passes beyond the wall, the volume increases rapidly again. In order to re-create the sound of traffic noise, and not just the sounds of a single car, many soundtracks have to be combined.


At the moment, only researchers are listening to these traffic sounds, but the scientists believe that there are some useful applications for this tool. For example, they believe that road developers will benefit from using MAUS.

All over Norway there are stretches of road generating too much noise, and that have to be modified. This can be achieved by erecting noise screens or constructing earth banks of suitable heights, or by other means such as reducing speeds or closing roads to heavy vehicles.

"We don't really know how this technology will be used in practice", says Viggen. "One idea is that the authorities may be able to conduct thorough tests to compare alternative noise-reducing measures before a final decision is taken. It's also possible that they might be interested in letting residents listen to different audio simulations so that they can have their say about which scenario seems to be the least troublesome. In this way it may be possible to avoid conflicts and expensive, subsequent modification work", says Viggen, who also insists that the tool will never be made openly available to the general public.

Explore further: Shaping up our 'soundscapes' can improve our lives

Related Stories

Shaping up our 'soundscapes' can improve our lives

February 10, 2015

We live in an increasingly noisy world. Since even low-level noise can affect quality of life, new tools to deal with noise are welcome. "Auralisation", the audio equivalent of visualisation, is now helping to model and improve ...

Users to fine-tune hearing aids themselves

June 22, 2015

More than 20 per cent of people with hearing aids use their devices for less than one hour a day because of problems they encounter with tuning the settings. But now users can participate in fine-tuning their devices themselves.

Harman minimizes road noise for better driving experience

November 2, 2014

Harman, an audio and infotainment company, has something called HALOsonic in its product line, for noise management, which it co-developed with Lotus Engineering. The company is expanding its noise management capabilities ...

Temperatures and wind conditions move traffic noise

May 25, 2011

( -- Imagine sitting down for your early morning coffee when your nice little suburban morning is disrupted by the sound of highway traffic from a quarter mile away. When you purchased your home far from the ...

Recommended for you

Sculpting stable structures in pure liquids

February 21, 2019

Oscillating flow and light pulses can be used to create reconfigurable architecture in liquid crystals. Materials scientists can carefully engineer concerted microfluidic flows and localized optothermal fields to achieve ...

Researchers make coldest quantum gas of molecules

February 21, 2019

JILA researchers have made a long-lived, record-cold gas of molecules that follow the wave patterns of quantum mechanics instead of the strictly particle nature of ordinary classical physics. The creation of this gas boosts ...

LMC S154 is a symbiotic recurrent nova, study suggests

February 21, 2019

Astronomers have conducted observations of a symbiotic star in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), known as LMC S154, which provide new insights about the nature of this object. Results of these observations, presented in a ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.