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Bells and Whistles: Giving Devices a Voice

by Rob Boffard (1810 words)

The sounds of the natural world speak to those who can interpret them: ‘The buffalo are headed east’, ‘Rain is just over the horizon’. The sounds of the technological world carry different messages: ‘Your headlights are on’, ‘The eggs are done’. Who creates these sounds and how?

Dave Sandhu was walking across the junction of 29th Street and Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver when he noticed something strange: the pedestrian signals were no longer making bird noises. That was a problem. The unusual pedestrian crossing sounds, a ‘dee-doo’ cuckoo noise for north–south crossings, and a melodic chirping for east–west, had become a crucial tool to help pedestrians navigate busy streets, not only in Vancouver, but in other cities across Canada as well. Without them, blind people wouldn’t know when to cross the road, and even those who could see might not immediately notice that it was time to walk.

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