Noise is a health hazard. Especially if it is part of work life and caused by loud machines. But noise simply consists of sound waves. And these can be considerably reduced by generating counter-sound.

Challenge: counteracting noise without any annoying headphones

Every eighth person in Germany suffers from hearing damage. Noise-induced hearing loss is currently the second most common occupational disease, causing costs of around € 800 billion a year worldwide.

So far, there are only noise-protecting headphones. But in the long run even headphones with sophisticated noise canceling technology are simply annoying. They create a feeling of pressure, complicate communication and also suppress all those acoustic signals that can be crucial.

An ideal system would therefore effectively suppress disturbing noise while still allowing unrestricted perception and communication. Such a system would be ideal for noisy construction machinery and agricultural machinery, but also aircraft and automobiles.

Solution: Noise suppression integrated directly into the seat

Marc von Elling lives in Hamburg-Altona, directly above the famous fish market. Sleeping with the windows open at night is hardly possible there. But Marc was convinced that there had to be a way to turn off noise without having to put on a pair of headphones. A conviction that led to the creation of recalm. And to a close cooperation with Martin Günther, Lukas Henkel and Ralf Ressel.

The founders of recalm relied on artificial intelligence and in 2017 began developing an algorithm that converts noisy sound into an antiphase sound signal, reducing noise levels by up to 20 dB. This represents a convincing efficiency and marks the first free-field application of this kind, which does not require headphones.

The technical setup consists of two microphones for recording the existing ambient noise. A microprocessor develops a sound signal with exactly the opposite polarity. Two loudspeakers are installed close to the ear in the seat and reproduce a counter-noise, with which the noise is superimposed and extinguished for the most part. As construction machine noise is mainly low-frequency sound, the higher frequencies remain unaffected. The operator of construction or agricultural machinery is thus able to continue to perceive acoustic signals and remains unrestricted in his ability to communicate.

Lukas Henkel, who is responsible for business modeling and marketing at recalm as COO, sees construction machinery and agricultural machinery as the first areas of application. Here, people work day by day under considerable noise pollution and almost inevitably develop permanent hearing damage.

The first steps recalm was able to make as part of the BizLab accelerator program from Airbus. The project was funded by an EXIST grant from the BMWi and part of the InnoRampUp funding program of the Hamburg Investment and Development Bank. In 2018, the four heads behind recalm won the BMWi Founder’s Competition for Digital Innovation.

Since summer 2017, the startup is working in the startup dock of the TUHH in Hamburg-Harburg. At first, it was about the development of a prototype in order to prove the function of the system. Since spring 2018, the first practical field tests are being carried out with pilot customers from the construction and agricultural machinery sector.

Potential: new applications in the aviation and automotive sector

The beauty of Active Noise Canceling technology is that it integrates with virtually any seat. recalm therefore envisions a wide range of applications – from buses and trains to automobiles and aircrafts. Maybe even one day there will be the bed with free-field noise canceling technology, which also ensures an undisturbed sleep right next to the fish market.

First, however, recalm will have the opportunity to exhibit its solution together with some potential customers at bauma, the world’s largest construction equipment trade fair, which will take place in April 2019 in Munich. Until then, the product should have undergone a long-term test and be integrated into the first vehicles of these customers.

As of September 2019

in Numbers

of all Germans suffer from hearing damage
€ 800 billion
costs are incurred worldwide due to irreparable hearing damage
15-20 dB
sound reduction stands for effective noise protection
2.3 million
new construction machinery per year could work with digital noise control

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