New research shows that a staggering 37 million Americans and 12 million Brits feel they have put themselves in danger over the past 12 months when wearing headphones or earphones while walking, jogging or cycling. Examples included stepping out into a road, bumping into somebody or not hearing an emergency vehicle approaching.

Commissioned by us, a leading AI technology company focused on sound recognition, the research explored the risks that people across the US and UK are exposed to everyday by being distracted from their surroundings while listening to music on the move.

The risk increases the younger consumers are. More than one in four Americans and one in three Brits between 18 and 34 have put themselves in harm’s way when wearing headphones.

Despite these admissions, the research found the majority of people claim to be aware of the dangers of wearing headphones and earphones in public. 97% of respondents consider it dangerous to wear headphones or earphones when driving, while other activities deemed dangerous include cycling (94%), running (88%) and commuting on public transport (69%).

Dr Chris Mitchell, our CEO and Founder comments; “A worrying number of people are putting their lives at risk every day when wearing headphones and shutting down the sense of hearing. Many of us wear headphones to block out the world and increase our focus, but that brings the risk of losing awareness of our surroundings. Missing important information in our environment can ultimately expose us to dangerous situations – and more needs to be done to prevent accidents from happening, we believe contextually-aware AI technology can be an enabler of this.”

Nick Lloyd, Acting Head of Road at RoSPA – the UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents – comments; “Whether you are driving, cycling, jogging or walking being distracted increases your risk of an accident. Listening to music on the move is part of modern life, but using headphones reduces your ability to hear approaching vehicles and puts you at increased risk of harm, especially if riding, walking or running on roads without vehicle segregation. Noise cancelling headphones are currently designed to isolate people from their surroundings, incorporating technology that can enable them to actively alert the wearer to possible dangers, and increase awareness, clearly has potential to improve safety.”

Dr Richard Lichenstein from the University of Maryland added; “Our analysis of accident reports showed that a warning was sounded before the crash in 29% of accidents involving pedestrians wearing headphones. Headphone use has become common for a significant proportion of pedestrians – and headphones with noise cancelling features have become more popular. If noise cancelling headphones can now be designed to recognize warning sounds and actively alert the wearer to danger, or automatically alter sound transmission to increase awareness, then there is the potential to reduce injury risk amongst headphone wearers.”

The survey results highlight demand for headphones to make use of artificial intelligence, with 86% wanting their audio devices to recognize and alert them to the sound of emergency vehicle sirens. Other important sounds people want their headphones to recognize include; smoke/fire alarms (90%), important announcements starting e.g. train platform changes (84%) and gun shots (85%).

A further 87% of respondents agreed that dynamic noise cancellation, where headphones preserve battery life by automatically turning noise cancellation on when it is needed, would be useful in a range of locations such as the home, commuting and at the gym. In addition, 88% of would purchase hearables that had dynamic sound equalization, which enables the hearables to optimize the audio experience for different acoustic environments.

Dr Chris Mitchell continued; “Modern headphones with active noise cancellation can increase the risk of distraction danger, but these devices also offer a solution. They are fitted with external microphones presenting an opportunity to add intelligent sound recognition to ensure contextual awareness. When the earphones themselves can hear and recognize important sounds, like a siren, car horn or even a doorbell or somebody talking, the devices can alert the wearer or instantly change settings to allow more sound through to enhance awareness. In addition, by better understanding the world around us, wearables with sound recognition could also enhance sound quality and better manage battery power. Advanced AI tech can make the next headphones we buy intelligent enough to understand context. We can then lose ourselves in our music without losing touch with the world around us.”

Download the full Hearables Report here.

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About Audio Analytic

Audio Analytic is the pioneer of AI sound recognition software. The company is on a mission to map the world of sounds, offering our sense of hearing to consumer technology. By transferring our sense of hearing to consumer products and digital personal assistants we give them the ability to react to the world around us, helping satisfy our entertainment, safety, security, wellbeing and communication needs.

Audio Analytic’s ai3™ sound recognition software enables device manufacturers and chip companies to equip products with Artificial Audio Intelligence, recognizing and automatically responding to our growing list of sound profiles.

Audio Analytic is the pioneer of artificial audio intelligence, which is empowering a new generation of smart products to hear and react to the sounds around us.

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