Noise-cancelling headphones, like Sony’s excellent WH-1000XM3, do an impressive job of silencing the world around you—assuming you’re actually able to wear them. Wearing headphones to bed to silence a snorer next to you isn’t practical or comfortable. So researchers at Northern Illinois University are integrating similar technology into a pillow that’s custom-designed to reduce the disruptive sounds of snores.
Smart pillows aren’t a new idea: If technology can be crammed into a random object, you can be assured someone has already thought of doing it. But while the current offerings, like Rem-fit’s Zeeq, can detect nearby snoring and attempt to drown it out by pumping white noise through built-in speakers, a smart pillow that simply adds to the disruptive din in your room is far from an ideal solution.
This time, as detailed in a paper published in the IEEE/CAA Journal of Automatica Sinica, researchers at Northern Illinois University did something different. They created a speaker-packed pillow that uses adaptive algorithms to help minimise snoring sounds in the same way a pair of noise-cancelling headphones can help silence the random sounds of a crowded bus, but adjusted on the fly for a specific frequency and sound pattern. One nearby microphone captures the sounds of someone snoring, while two others capture the ambient sounds in a room, which are then all processed by an adaptive algorithm.
No two snorers sound the same, and throughout the night, breathing patterns and the varying position of a sleeper can drastically change the sounds of their snoring or wheezing. Quick snorts might eventually stretch out into the sounds of a chainsaw working its way through the trunk of a towering Redwood. Using an algorithm that’s able to adjust and adapt its noise-cancelling capabilities for snores that get longer and shorter can offer improved performance over a catch-all filter that’s instead designed to silence any and all incoming frequencies.
Older noise-cancelling techniques involve the use of speaker-packed headboards that don’t effectively direct noise-cancelling signals at the sleeper who’s suffering.Photo: Northern Illinois University
In their testing, the researchers found the pillow was able able to reduce the loudness of snoring sounds by up to 31 decibels. That’s enough of a drop to make a roaring vacuum cleaner instead sound like the murmur of a quiet office space. It’s a notable improvement, given the person making all that racket is lying right next to you in a quiet room, but will they ever be completely silenced?
Who knows how far noise-cancelling techniques will evolve, but if this technology is ever parlayed into a consumer-ready product, we’ll be first in line for a smart pillow that promises to improve our sleep and save our relationships. [IEEE/CAA Journal of Automatica Sinica via IEEE Spectrum]