Signal processing wizard stops catastrophic structural failures

Our researchers have developed a range of ‘ready to use’ tools that filter out noise and enhance signals in digital acoustic data. Today our ‘signal wizards’ are used in several commercial products and services, including Pure Technologies’ $6 million acoustic monitoring business which detects faults in steel structures and pipelines.

People’s brains are amazing at filtering out acoustic ‘rubbish’ so they can focus on sounds that really matter – a conversation or a platform announcement, for example.

Digital signal processing (DSP) does the same with digital audio files: it filters distortions, removes background noise and enhances relevant signals.

Cost

The cost of a single water pipe burst in London.

Revenues

The annual revenues at Pure Technologies Ltd.

Good DSP can be expensive because it requires people with a high level of expertise in system design, mathematics and software development. So our researchers developed ways to make DSP more automated and accessible to non-experts.

In 2001, we launched the not-for-profit company Signal Wizard Systems to commercialise software developed from our DSP work.

Signal Wizard Systems currently provides four audio processing products:

  • SW 2.5, a 2-channel audio analyser.
  • SW 3.0, an 8-channel audio analyser.
  • Soundtrack, a software package to process wav audio files.
  • Vsound, a standalone emulation unit for use with electronic violins.

These DSP tools have been integrated into numerous commercial products and services, for example the acoustic monitoring system made by Pure Technologies Ltd to detect structural failures in steel structures.

The SoundPrint fibre optic system works by detecting the signature vibrations of microscopic cracks within steel. SoundPrint uses SW 2.5 to enhance the distinctive vibrations of a crack from the much 'louder' background vibrations of a steel structure. Signal Wizard technology is fundamental to SoundPrint’s sensitivity, and thus a key contributor to Pure Technologies' $5.6 million revenue in 2012.

Signal Wizard technology is fundamental to Pure Technologies’ $5.6 million fault detection business.

In early 2013, a Pure Technologies system detected a fault in a large water main in Washington DC. Without swift preventative action from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, this failure could have seen a repeat of the catastrophic 2008 mains water burst in the city which released up to 150,000 gallons of water per minute and forced helicopter rescues.

Pure Technologies’ systems prevent disastrous failures and help authorities and businesses prioritise preventative repairs to reduce overall repair costs and mitigate potential losses. In the US, the water industry spends around $3 billion every year on burst mains; a single recent pipe burst in London cost £4 million, so the potential savings from early structural fault detection and prevention are substantial. 

The Signal Wizard technology has been used in a wide variety of other applications including:

  • Development of 'quiet zones' in theme parks.
  • Development of a hearing implant by medical device company, Otologics, without any use of any cadavers during research and developement. 
  • Real-time eavesdropping devices by UK and US security forces.

Research background


Professor Patrick Gaydecki

Researchers developed algorithms to improve automated digital signal processing and make acoustic analysis and enhancement possible by non-experts.

Key developments:

  • Understanding audio and biomedical signal processing, including signal shape reconstruction, inverse filtering and the emulation of head-related transfer functions.
  • Digital approaches to super narrow band filters for very weak magnetic field detection.
  • Algorithm based on a sub-sampling interpolator to generate ultra-pure sine-wave function for high phase resolution. 
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