HearThere: Networked Sensory Prosthetics Through Auditory Augmented Reality

Spencer Russell, Gershon Dublon, Joseph A. Paradiso


In this paper we present a vision for scalable indoor and outdoor auditory augmented reality (AAR), as well as HearThere, a wearable device and infrastructure demonstrating the feasibility of that vision. HearThere preserves the spatial alignment between virtual audio sources and the user’s environment, using head tracking and bone conduction headphones to achieve seamless mixing of real and virtual sounds. To scale between indoor, urban, and natural environments, our system supports multi-scale location tracking, using finegrained (20-cm) Ultra-WideBand (UWB) radio tracking when in range of our infrastructure anchors and mobile GPS otherwise. In our tests, users were able to navigate through an AAR scene and pinpoint audio source locations down to 1 m. We found that bone conduction is a viable technology for producing realistic spatial sound, and show that users’ audio localization ability is considerably better in UWB coverage zones than with GPS alone. HearThere is a major step towards realizing our vision of networked sensory prosthetics, in which sensor networks serve as collective sensory extensions into the world around us. In our vision, AAR would be used to mix spatialized data sonification with distributed, livestreaming microphones. In this concept, HearThere promises a more expansive perceptual world, or umwelt, where sensor data becomes immediately attributable to extrinsic phenomena, externalized in the wearer’s perception. We are motivated by two goals: first, to remedy a fractured state of attention caused by existing mobile and wearable technologies; and second, to bring the distant or often invisible processes underpinning a complex natural environment more directly into human consciousness.

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