Sounds of New York City, otherwise known as SONYC, is a new multi-year project involving a team of scientists from New York University (NYU) and collaborators at Ohio State University. It is a “first-of-its-kind comprehensive research initiative to understand and address noise pollution in New York and beyond,” and the National Science Foundation recently awarded the project a $4.6 million grant.

“Noise pollution is one of the topmost quality of life issues for urban residents in the U.S. with proven effects on health, education, the economy, and the environment,” said Juan Pablo Bello, the lead investigator of SONYC and director of the Music and Audio Research Lab (MARL) at the NYU Steinhardt School. “Yet, most cities lack the resources for continuously monitoring noise, the technology for understanding how individual sources contribute to noise pollution, the tools to broaden citizen participation in noise reporting, and the means to empower city agencies to take effective information-driven action. SONYC will help address these shortcomings.”

The project involves sensors and individuals that will help with large-scale noise monitoring. The first year-long phase of the project will require around 100 sensors, which will be placed on NYU buildings throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn to simply record various city sounds. This, NYU explains, will “teach” the sensors to identify different kinds of noise.

“SONYC sensors will need a new type of battery-powered computing node to support and even relearn diverse node recognition algorithms in situ while consuming very low power,” said Anish Arora, a professor of computer science and engineering from Ohio State. “By combining accurate and robust machine listening with large-scale, albeit subjective human complaint data, we expect to provide reliable information to support decision making.”

In the second phase of the project, the sensors will begin employing machine listening technology to distinguish among individual sounds and create accompanying reports on the various sound levels and sorts. This information will ultimately be used to help city officials “strategically identify and mitigate noise.”