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Tech Report NWU-EECS-11-09: Acoustic Sensing of Location and User Presence on Mobile Computers, by Stephen P. Tarzia

Tech Report NWU-EECS-11-09: Acoustic Sensing of Location and User Presence on Mobile Computers, by Stephen P. Tarzia

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This dissertation evaluates the claim that “acoustic sensing on mobile computers can provide accurate user presence and location information while requiring no new hardware.” We introduce two new acoustic sensing techniques for computers; one is a sonar system for detecting user presence, the other is an ambient sound fingerprint to support determining location while indoors. The common goal is to sense the physical context of the computer; this problem at the intersection of mobile, ubiquitous, and pervasive computing systems research.

Our sonar presence detection system senses motion in the environment by emitting an inaudible ultrasonic tone from the computer’s speaker while using the microphone to listen for variations in the tone’s echo. A user study showed that motion can be reliably sensed even in cases when the user is simply watching the display and thus no movement is expected. We applied sonar presence detection to the problem of display power management in a publicly-released software utility.

This work was made possible by support from a Dr. John N. Nicholson fellowship and the National Science Foundation (NSF) via grants CNS-0720691 and CNS-0347941.
This dissertation evaluates the claim that “acoustic sensing on mobile computers can provide accurate user presence and location information while requiring no new hardware.” We introduce two new acoustic sensing techniques for computers; one is a sonar system for detecting user presence, the other is an ambient sound fingerprint to support determining location while indoors. The common goal is to sense the physical context of the computer; this problem at the intersection of mobile, ubiquitous, and pervasive computing systems research.

Our sonar presence detection system senses motion in the environment by emitting an inaudible ultrasonic tone from the computer’s speaker while using the microphone to listen for variations in the tone’s echo. A user study showed that motion can be reliably sensed even in cases when the user is simply watching the display and thus no movement is expected. We applied sonar presence detection to the problem of display power management in a publicly-released software utility.

This work was made possible by support from a Dr. John N. Nicholson fellowship and the National Science Foundation (NSF) via grants CNS-0720691 and CNS-0347941.

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Published by: eecs.northwestern.edu on Oct 31, 2011
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Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department
Technical ReportNWU-EECS-11-09August 31, 2011
 
Acoustic Sensing of Location and User Presenceon Mobile Computers
Stephen P. Tarzia
 
Abstract
This dissertation evaluates the claim that “acoustic sensing on mobile computers can provideaccurate user presence and location information while requiring no new hardware.” Weintroduce two new acoustic sensing techniques for computers; one is a sonar system for detectinguser presence, the other is an ambient sound fingerprint to support determining location whileindoors. The common goal is to sense the physical context of the computer; this problem at theintersection of mobile, ubiquitous, and pervasive computing systems research.Our sonar presence detection system senses motion in the environment by emitting an inaudibleultrasonic tone from the computer’s speaker while using the microphone to listen for variationsin the tone’s echo. A user study showed that motion can be reliably sensed even in cases whenthe user is simply watching the display and thus no movement is expected. We applied sonar  presence detection to the problem of display power management in a publicly-released softwareutility.
This work was made possible by support from a Dr. John N. Nicholson fellowship and the National Science Foundation (NSF) via grants CNS-0720691 and CNS-0347941.
 
We next introduce a way for portable computers such as smartphones to determine their locationwhile indoors by listening to ambient sounds. No new hardware is required on the device and noinfrastructure is required in the environment. Sensing is entirely passive, using the device’smicrophone. Surprisingly, we found that each location has a relatively unique backgroundsound. In other words, the “quiet” sound of each room is distinct and we introduce some filteringtechniques which can measure the background sound even when there is noise, such as a persontalking. Our technique works both in closed rooms and open hallways and even in cases whenthe user carrying the device is walking.This dissertation uses an empirical approach, measuring real-world performance of our systemswith user studies when possible. As part of these experiments, we have publicly released usefuland compelling research software. This software, and our experimental results, show that background sounds and ultrasound have much more practical use than we might expect.
Keywords:
localization, sonar, presence, audio, sound, signal processing, power management,ultrasound
 
NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITYAcoustic Sensing of Location and User Presence on Mobile ComputersA DISSERTATIONSUBMITTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOLIN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTSfor the degreeDOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHYField of Electrical Engineering and Computer ScienceByStephen P. TarziaEVANSTON, ILLINOISAugust 2011

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