DIY ‘Outside-In’ setup, audio birding, and exploring 3D sonograms in a virtual world

For a quick and fun little Saturday morning experiment, I took a $5 microphone, and a cooler we found floating in Lake Michigan, and built a simple, cheap, but surprisingly effective setup for remote audio birding.

This really is an almost laughably simple experiment, but it was surprisingly effective.  I’ve always wanted to build some kind of ‘Outside-In’ technology (I wrote about it once before) to help bring some of the outdoors into my office when I can’t be outside, since I’m sure that regular doses of the outdoors helps improve my attention and cognition – and there appears to be ample scientific evidence to suggest that I’m not alone.  With so much attention paid by architects to visually bridge indoor and outdoor spaces, why not bridge them audibly as well?

Of course, nothing beats actually being outside whenever possible, but when I’m working, and its too cold to have the window open, its better than nothing.

The contraption I built this morning does a remarkably good job of bringing some of the flavor of the soundscape of my backyard into my office – even if only for background effect, and I’m really looking forward to listening in on the wilderness while I’m pushing prims in virtual reality.

The setup took about 45 seconds to build – and I was soon hearing a gentle breeze and about a dozen different bird species in my backyard singing through my computer speakers.  The experience left a strong impression of sitting outside in the backyard, and by using Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s ‘Raven‘ software, I was even able to see a realtime sonogram of everything I heard.

Here is a pretty lame experiment with saving a sonogram, and its corresponding sound bite:

In subsequent phases of this experiment, I’m hoping to implement a more sensitive Pro4 PIP parabolic microphone, or a Sennheiser MKE 300 Microphone. However, my original goal has more to do with remote sensory (1k+ feet away)- and my concern is that these might be too expensive, require too much energy, or have too much wind interference.

The step after that would be to incorporate a realtime feed of both audio and sonogram into a virtual world like opensim or Second Life – mapped into a virtual replication of the real woodland site.

It would be interesting to see if a sonogram can be mapped into 3D somehow. It would also be interesting to find some others who might be willing to test audio equipment in another geographic region and compare the differences and similarities in bird song. Further still, it would be really fascinating to start mapping migration routes in the virtual space – toward a better visualization (with potential educational applications) of bird behavior and migration. Maybe even incorporate realtime NEXRAD feeds of migration arrivals and departures into the virtual model somehow. Here’s a quick study exploring what that might look like:

The possibilities are endless, but it all started with a $5 mic and a cooler we found in The Lake.


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