Google updates Android smartphones to listen to houses for suspect sounds

Google says the update will make it easier for people with hearing issues to be notified of events

Adam Smith
Friday 09 October 2020 10:37 BST
(Daniel Romero)

Google has rolled out a new update to its Android platform that will send users notifications when their phone hears certain household sounds.

The feature comes as an accessibility update to its Live Transcribe function that automatically records and writes down audio or other speech the phone hears.

Live Transcribe is now able to hear other sounds, including smoke alarms, fire alarms, sirens, babies crying, doorbells, barking dogs, running water, people knocking on doors, and more.

Users are then alerted to the event via a notification, camera flash, or vibration.

A timeline feature also lets users scroll through the preceding events in the day, showing all the sounds that it has detected in the past few hours.

“This shows when and how long the sound occurred to get a better sense of the sound’s importance”, Google says in a blog post, “so if the dog has been barking because of a siren heard before that for 10 minutes, you can see that.”

Sound notifications use machine learning, but work entirely off the device so information is not shared elsewhere.

It uses the phone’s microphone to recognise up to ten different noises. Live Transcribe can also hear over 30 sound events, Google says.

As well as Android devices, users can also receive the sound transcriptions through text notifications on Wear OS – Google’s Android operating system - on smartwatches.

Live Transcribe is automatically installed on Google’s Pixel smartphones, but is also accessible through the Play Store where it and the new Sound Notifications function can be downloaded.

It is then accessible through the Settings menu.

This is not the first attempt the search giant has made to record and analyse household sounds.

In August, Google accidentally updated certain Home smart speakers so they could listen to passive sounds like glass breaking, popped bubble wrap, an air compressor tank, and other high-pitched noises that sound like alarms.

While such features provide greater security, the use of ambient monitoring could eventually pave the way for Google products to constantly listen to their surroundings, rather than only being activated by a wake word.

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