Noise Cancelling Speech Recogntion

If you are like us, you’ll read a bit more and smack your forehead. Amazon recently filed a patent. That isn’t really news, per se–they file lots of patents, including ones that cover clicking on a button to order something and taking pictures against white backgrounds (in a very specific way). However, this patent is not only a good idea, but one we were surprised didn’t arise out of the hacker community.

There can’t be an invention without a problem and the problem this one solves is a common one: While wearing noise cancelling headphones, you can’t hear things that you want to hear (like someone coming up behind you). The Amazon solution? Let the headphones monitor for programmable keywords and turn off noise cancellation in response to those words. We wonder if you could have a more sophisticated digital signal processor look for other cues like a car horn, a siren, or a scream.

We’ve talked about fixing commercial noise cancelling headphones before. If you don’t mind going low-tech, there’s always the easy way out, but those aren’t likely to accommodate speech recognition.

29 thoughts on “Noise Cancelling Speech Recogntion

  1. This reminds me of the electronic hearing protectors I used to use at the shooting range – they transfer quiet sounds inside with a microphone/speaker system, but cut out at high decibel levels. That way you can hear verbal commands in the range, but you’re protected from the loud reports when firing.

    1. I haven’t seen any with acceptable noise reduction for a gun report in an enclose area. Most shooting areas I’ve been have 3 or 4 sides protected with berms.

      If you’re in a relatively open area then yeah they work great.

      1. The Howard Leight’s by Honeywell are inexpensive (compared to my old Peltor Tactical’s, they’re a steal), and have worked well enough that I’ve bought a total of four pairs for when I’m teaching. They’re also slimmer than some Mickey Mouse ears, so you have a chance of getting a good cheek weld with your stock.

  2. I’m curious as to why this is necessary anyways. Noise cancellation works by using inverted waves, and is generally only useful with repetitive, predictable noises. The generic drone of outside noises is relatively that. The speech of someone right behind you, generally is not. It should filter through.

    A physics professor who was a former air force pilot (and tech gadget guy at other instances) claims noise cancelling headphones were invented for helicopter rides where airmen would remove their headsets to yell at one another, as they couldn’t hear through the headsets anyways; apparently this was bad for their hearing what with the loudness of the props.

    With noise cancellation effectively cancelling the drone of the prop, they were able to talk to each other, and this noise wasn’t cancelled because it’s not really predictable. Grain of salt, I know. But, it makes sense to me.

    1. My experience agrees with the helicoptor story. I wore my first pair of noise cancelling headphones (about 25 years ago, external electronics with belt clip) on a commercial jet aircraft. They the engine noise go away enough that I could hear conversations clearly from several rows away. Newer technology must have improved since then.

  3. “We wonder if you could have a more sophisticated digital signal processor look for other cues like a car horn, a siren, or a scream.” My smartphone already has those options, buried in accessibilty options.

  4. Is this a troll article? It seems to be the likely case, I wanted to face palm but not because this invention (patent) has any merit.

    Noise canceling does not equate to voice canceling, have you ever worn these headphones they do not cancel voice just muffle it as any other non-noise sounds because they cover your ears. I guess if the speaker is your 10th grade social studies teacher with the most monotone voice ever this would make sense but 99% of people speak with changing tone, inflection and modulation which will not be canceled.

      1. If the patent is about passing through ambient audio and not just canceling the filtering, then sure okay that makes sense. The article doesn’t read like that is though, it just suggests that the keyword turns off the filtering, and unless some marvel of predictive speech has been developed, seems a little useless.

    1. Hmm what’s this from a review on amazon for the QC25 giving praises but still the truth?

      “Please understand, noise cancellation will not drown out a crying baby, slamming doors, or people talking. They will help out with repetitive noises like airplanes, air-conditioners or soft noises. If you don’t listen to music, these might isolate sounds even more and be counter-productive.”

      Homer obviously hasn’t tried them either.

      Patent is not novel or innovative at the least and is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist.

    1. They *could* make it worse by making it a IoT and requiring an internet connection to the cloud to process the voice recognization stuff. :P May be that’s a 2nd patent filing referencing to this.

      Nothing new here and not worth parroting. It is just the standard patent mine field just like Chinese take out food menu permutations of meat/vegetables/sauce/rice or noodles combinations of known technology to CYA.

  5. This is actually less face-palming than I thought reading the title. I figured the “invention” actually avoided cancelling certain waveforms recognized as speech (vs “not speech”). Voice commands to turn it off seem a bit lame in comparison. ;/

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