Smartwatch app developed to identify sounds for hearing impaired

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Dhruv Jain, a doctoral student at University of Washington, and his team have developed SoundWatch, a smartwatch app, to help hearing impaired people hear nearby sounds. Photo: courtesy University of Washington

Researchers at University of Washington lead by Indian-American Dhruv Jain, have developed a smartwatch app called SoundWatch for the deaf and hard-of-hearing to help them identify nearby sounds.

According to the press release from the University, when the smartwatch picks up a sound the user is interested in like a siren, a microwave beeping or a bird chirping, SoundWatch will identify it and send the user a buzz along with information about the sound.

Jain who was born hard of hearing believes SoundWatch will provide people with a way to experience sounds that require an action — such as getting food from the microwave when it beeps. These devices can also enhance people’s experiences and help them feel more connected to the world, making life a bit easier for day-to-day activities.

“I use the watch prototype to notice birds chirping and waterfall sounds when I am hiking,” Jain, a doctoral student at UW, is quoted saying in the press release. “It makes me feel present in nature. My hope is that other d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing people who are interested in sounds will also find SoundWatch helpful.”

The team developed several prototypes before arriving at SoutnWatch which they tested in March 2020, immediately preceding Washington’s stay-at-home order for COVID-19.

The eight participants in the Seattle area responded that they found the app was useful for letting them know if there was something that they should pay attention to. For example: that they had left the faucet running or that a car was honking.

“Disability is highly personal, and we want these devices to allow people to have deeper experiences,” Jain said in the release. “We’re now looking into ways for people to personalize these systems for their own specific needs. We want people to be notified about the sounds they care about — a spouse’s voice versus general speech, the back door opening versus the front door opening, and more.”

The team presented these findings on Oct. 28 at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) conference on computing and accessibility. The National Science Foundation and a Google Faculty Research Award funded the research.

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