For those who are hard of hearing or just listening to music with noise-cancelling earbuds, not being able to hear the sounds of your environment could be detrimental to your health and well-being. Google’s Live Transcribe app just received an accessibility update which adds a feature called Sound Notifications to your phone or Wear OS watch. You’ll be alerted with push notifications regarding 10 important audio events surrounding you – the sound of glass breaking, a dog barking, a siren sounding, a baby crying and more, so that you can take action immediately if needed. Sound Notifications uses your microphone, works offline and adds to the existing 30 sound events in Google’s already impressive sound detection work.
To get the best results, Google says you should place your phone in the center of the room. If an important noise is detected, your watch will vibrate and your phone’s flashlight will blink to let you know. Many people in the deaf and hard of hearing community have concerns about missing these noises while they sleep, so adding vibrations to Wear OS seems like it would be helpful. Once you download Live Transcribe and enable Sound Notifications on your phone, you’ll be able to see a timeline showing the type of sound that occurred and its duration. You can scroll back through a snapshot of the past few hours of sound history as well so that you can see which detected sounds preceded a major event.
Sound Notifications were built using – you guessed it – machine learning. Google has shifted in the past few years from being a search-first company to being a machine learning and artificial intelligence first company. Their progress with these tools since that move has already produced some pretty incredible innovations. Live Transcribe also offers text transcriptions of nearby conversations and alerts you when your name is spoken too. Like I said – incredible. Pixelbuds received an experimental update a few months ago as a part of their feature drops called “Attention Alerts” which is similar to Sound Notifications insomuch that it lowers your music volume for a second and chimes when emergency sounds occur.
Your Nest Guard can already detect the sound of glass breaking, and while there has been no indication of these new Sound Notifications coming to it, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they did. It feels like a natural extension of the Nest Guard’s capabilities and it would make the device even more useful. Going a step further to integrate this feature with your Nest Aware subscription and calling the police if glass breaks or even if a combination of sounds occur (i.e. glass breaks and then a baby cries), could be invaluable to your home security. I tried the Sound Notifications feature on my Pixel phone and I should mention that it’s not perfect. It identified my fridge as the sound of wind and my air conditioner as the sound of a vehicle. You probably shouldn’t worry about this becoming an annoyance though, as familiar sounds will likely be ignored temporarily after their initial instance and my fridge and air conditioner are unusually loud. Being that accessibility is so important to Google, I’m sure this will continue to improve with time so that they can help even more users benefit from their technology.