Using sensors, data, and an app to empower people living in cities with information about how noise pollution affects their world

Third Place out of 78 teams at the Elevate Hackathon by TD

The Challenge

How might we create a data driven, technologically-connected city that is inclusive, safe and vibrant for everyone that calls Toronto home? What innovations and technologies will help Torontonians live better lives?

- ELEVATE HACKATHON

Murmur phone app screenshots

The Project

Noise is a unique problem for cities. Noise pollution can have severe implications for the wellbeing of entire communities and children are especially at risk. Yet there are few resources for people to inform themselves about how sound directly affects the places they may live, work, and play.

We set out to empower the people of Toronto by giving them access to noise information in a way that makes sense to them. By developing a simple Arduino-powered sound sensor, we were able to translate realtime data into an interactive heat-map of sound.

We made that map accessible with our user-friendly app and proposed onboarding the Toronto noise complaint system to improve evidence collection, response times, and administrative tracking.

The Murmur project does not aim to solve noise pollution. It aims to collect, analyze, and present noise pollution data in a way that everyone can understand, which empowers real people to make real decisions. Specifically families, as families living in cities face the challenge of creating a healthy, nourishing environment for children while being constantly at odds with the problem of noise pollution. Information like this could give them tools to make decisions about where to live, work, and play.

Everything that went into the design of the user-facing app aims to reinforce that message. Creating a database from decibel sensors was only a start, as the true value came delivering that data in a visualization that anyone could use. The app is designed to be a simple chatbot with an engaging, family-friendly owl mascot to encourage participation with children.

Murmur app presentation slide
Image showing the Murmur database and map
Image showing the Murmur database and map
Image showing the Murmur database and map

Role

This project was proof that nothing is more effective than a cohesive team. I enjoy taking a synthesis role on teams, where I can help mobilize and unify multidisciplinary pieces into a powerful outcome. I played that role here, keeping communication flowing between art and engineering throughout the process.

While everyone on the team contributed to the conceptualization and ideation, I worked closely with Adam Crosby to focus on tying the project to a narrative. The heart of this project lies in its effect on the lives of people - its value is greater than the sum of its technological parts. And its value always comes back to the user.

Ensuring that we built and communicated this project to be in line with the user experience we had for it was my key role. I used research and conversations with relevant mentors to define the problem and the user. Directing the UX was accomplished by clearly identifying the project’s value proposition and target audiences and testing our concept against this definition as we progressed through the development process.

Practically speaking, my main areas of focus were research, conceptualization, user experience design, front-end development, and communication. I also played roles in UI design and 3D modelling.

Photo of the Murmur team placing third

We were thrilled to receive third place in Toronto's largest hackathon with more than 70 teams competing. This project would not have been possible without the incredible work of the entire team, including (from left to right):

Carlo Dormiendo (UX, UI, Visual Style)
Warren Zajac (Arduino, Back-End Dev)
Christina Weng (UX, UI, Visual Style)
Cory Da Silva (Back-End Dev, Front-End Dev)
Alexandra Thompson (me)
Adam Crosby (UX, UI, Front-End Dev)