The world of audio technology is evolving rapidly. There are exciting technological innovations in the field of augmented reality (AR). AR Audio, for example, is introducing disruptive 3D audio and head-tracking capabilities to provide consumers with an entirely new interactive listening experience.
Three-dimensional (3D) sound, in fact, can simulate a realistic acoustic space. For AR, it means that the environment is augmented with digital sounds and blends seamlessly into the scene. This creates an incredible sense of immersion, putting the user in their own private sound world.
With these advances enabled by AR audio, users are in for a whole new set of audio experiences. But how does it all sound in practice?
This blog post presents five use cases that Carina Denz developed in her master’s thesis on the potential of AR Audio applications in public spaces.
Travelers could be supported by an auditory assistant at an unfamiliar train station or airport during long-distance travel, specifically, they would hear announcements about their train or flight that only concerns them directly. And we all know how poor the quality of such speakers can sometimes be in public spaces.
They could also be navigated to their correct platform or airport gate by spatial 3D sounds, furthermore providing them with valuable information that could make their journey easier. So let’s jump into a real-life scenario with AR audio.
A traveler enters the station premises ten minutes before the train is due to depart. Normally, he would now be constantly updating his train connection in an app, looking at his cell phone, and jogging to the platform at the same time.
But today he is assisted by the new AR Audio app. He enters the station hall and a voice sounds from above:
“Your train is five minutes late, you don’t have to run so fast”.
He immediately slows down and looks for the speaker. Above all, he notices that the sound was coming from his headphones because the speaker quality had been surprisingly good. Additionally, he starts to wonder how this has become so quickly possible – all in all, it’s only been a few days since this AR Audio app was available in the station hall.
Surprised by the technology presented to him, he continues to walk more slowly to the platform and then hears another announcement:
“Your train has changed platforms, from platform three to ten”.
He stops and reorients himself, where does he have to go now? He hears a steady soft pinging sound from one direction. The sound rotates according to his head movement and helps him find the direction. Additionally, in the distance, he sees the platform ten sign.
As soon as he walks in the direction of the pinging, it gets louder and louder and disappears, as he now has found the right stairs to platform ten. It was a relief to know that he had arrived at the correct place. All in all, it may have taken him some time but eventually he did make it to his destination.
Another announcement sounds:
“Your train will leave in five minutes, it is best to go to section C, there are at least seats reserved in the carriage”.
Much more relaxed than usual, he stands at the platform and waits for his train.
There are people who rarely use public transportation or who can’t find their way around local traffic in unfamiliar cities. I know my way around Munich quite well, but as soon as you’re in another big city, you quickly get confused by the connections.
In such cases, an application that supports them in real-time could be helpful. An app could navigate travelers to their correct downtown stop via spatial sounds and also help them identify the right train/subway or bus. And during the journey, travelers could be informed when to get off so they don’t miss their correct stop.
Rudolf has discovered an app that should help him find his way around public transportation better. He walks to the bus stop, buys his ticket in the app and activates the help function for the first time. His headphones give him a short feedback sound so he knows that Help is activated.
As he stands at the platform and a bus pulls in, the tutorial begins. He hears a low tone from the direction of the bus and a voice says:
“If you hear this sound, the arriving bus is not yours.”
This bus continues and now he hears a low ringing sound from the direction of the platform and a voice says:
“When you hear this ringing, your bus is the next one.”
Rudolf now stands closer to the platform and sees the next approaching bus. The ringing gets closer and closer until the bus is in front of him. He gets on and his cell phone vibrates.
He knows that the ride should take about 20 minutes and hopes not to miss his station. From his seat, he can’t read the display board and the announcements are difficult to understand.
After 15 minutes have passed, he hears four short beeps coming from his direction of travel. Then a voice:
“The closer you get to your station, the fewer beeps you will hear, in four stations you will have to get off”.
He continues to listen to music and before the next stop he hears three beeps. When the two beeps come and the bus moves on again, he now knows that the next station is his. Just before he notices the bus braking, a long drawn-out beep occurs and he gets up to get off.
By now recognizing the sounds, he won’t have to look at his cell phone to navigate the buses in the future.
Often you can find old works of art or historical monuments in urban parks. These could be enhanced in a new way with the help of AR audio. Instead of reading old information boards, the objects themselves could tell what makes them special in an exciting way. Walkers thus have the opportunity to experience the park in a new emotional way through AR Audio.
Lea is standing in a park in front of a public exhibition with several sculptures. She would like to learn more about them and is interested in the art and history. But she doesn’t want to ask a staff member or push her way in front of the information boards. She sees a sign with a QR code and a scan prompt to experience this exhibit as an audio experience.
So she puts the headphones in her ears and starts the AR art exhibition. She now walks along the main path through the exhibition in the park and hears located sounds, music and noises around her. Depending on which artwork she approaches or looks at, she experiences a new soundscape.
The sculpture talks to her and tells her its story. Each sculpture has its own background music with sound effects. So she experiences each artwork as an auditory private experience.
Everyone knows the classic city tours in large groups where not all the information is retained. The pace of the group is often too fast or too slow. Such audio guides are quite simple in design, but therefore much more is possible.
Spatial sounds matching the cityscape and sound-based navigation could be used to make a city tour a more entertaining experience. This makes the whole thing much more impressive and learning an experience.
Maike wants to explore an old town on vacation and goes to one of the info points. However, she doesn’t want to carry a map or follow a tour guide, but rather explore the sights at her own pace. She finds a QR code with location-based auditory guidance and wants to try it out.
Maike puts on her headphones and selects a route. She can choose between different options. Therefore she chooses the guide with the historical medieval tour and immediately her soundscape changes. Instead of cars, she now hears carriages driving and horses neighing. Sounds as if she were standing in the middle of a medieval marketplace.
From one direction she hears water sounds, which lead her to the first point of the tour, an old well. Once there, she hears the story of the water feature and is briefly immersed in a new soundscape.
When this is finished being told, she hears church bells ringing from the right. She turns around and the sounds are coming from the direction of the church, which is the next point on her tour. Now she understands that she is being navigated with sounds that match the next point of interest.
AR could also contribute to relaxation with the help of a suitable soundscape. Whether on the go or at home. With spatial sound, users can immerse themselves in another world and still listen to their own music or a podcast.
With modern headphones, it could be possible to track a person’s steps in real-time. These could then virtually resound to match the soundscape, for an immersive experience.
Emma walks to the crowded train station after work, stressed, and puts her headphones in her ear. She starts her relaxation app, selects forest as the theme, and puts her smartphone away.
As soon as the noise-canceling is activated, she no longer hears the screaming children and loudly phoning adults around her. For the first time in a few hours, she has peace from the noise of everyday life. Slowly, a new soundscape begins to build around her.
From below, her footsteps sound as if she were walking through a forest, dry leaves crackle and now and then small branches or stones roll across the path. Above her, birds sing softly, warbling.
To her right, the wind blows through the trees and makes the leaves tremble. After a while, she now has a podcast playing via Spotify at the same time. Now she hears the podcasters to her left and right. Birds chirp softly into the pauses in speech, flying over her sometimes from the left and sometimes from the right.
In a small round, the use cases presented were discussed and feedback was collected from people who no longer leave their house without headphones. For them, headphones are an important part of everyday life, but so far they only use a few diverse other than music or podcasts. Currently available 3D Spatial Audio Apps are described in the linked article. [
One problem for power users is that use cases often involve noise canceling. This could block out important external noises in everyday life, such as an approaching car/bicyclist. Of course, the so-called ANC can also be deactivated again.
Most headphones usually also have a pass-through mode, which in turn reproduces speech unfiltered through the earpieces. This enables communication and you don’t even have to take off the headphones.
The power users added that they would like to use such so-called AR Audio apps in groups. AR Audio not only makes it possible to create individual 3D audio experiences. It’s also conceivable to create multi-user content – even if that’s more technically complex.
Power users think it’s great that they can hear personalized information that is relevant to them directly. Their hands, as well as eyes, are free for multitasking during this time, which is especially handy for everyday life on the go.
They also see the ability to interact with the environment through head tracking as a great advantage, for instance, if something interests them, they look at it and get targeted information. Especially in the cultural field, the information is more accessible this way, since their own smartphone and their own headphones can be used.
The sound itself would be very realistic with spatial sound. Additionally, in combination with head tracking it can provide a more immersive experience. According to the power users’ vision.
We have seen that the use cases presented have sparked the initial low interest of head-tracking power users in new audio-based applications. 3D audio and head-tracking technologies offer both new interaction possibilities and the realistic sound required for AR audio apps.
These technologies can be used to create exciting and interesting apps that entertain us on the go or assist us in our daily lives. All of this can be done discreetly through headphones, making it an attractive solution for many people, therefore making AR glasses arguably a bit more inconvenient.
So how can you use 3D audio for your project? That always depends a lot on the use case and there are many challenges, therefore I would be happy to help you find the right solution. So write me directly a non-binding request.contact me now