Deaf and hard-of-hearing people can use SoundWatch to experience sounds that require an action, such as a beeping microwave or ambulance siren, or to enhance experiences such as hearing a bird chirp or a waterfall sound.


Smartwatches offer a private method for getting notifications about surroundings such as a phone call or health alerts. SoundWatch, a smartwatch app for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, picks up a sound from the user’s smartwatch, identifies it, and sends a friendly buzz and information about the sound. Because smartwatches have limited storage and processing abilities, the researchers needed a system that didn’t eat the watch’s battery and was also fast and accurate. The watch sends the sound to a device with more processing power — the user’s phone — for classification. Having a phone classify sounds and send the results back to the watch not only saves time but also maintains the user’s privacy because sounds are only transferred between the user’s own devices. Another current focus is developing a method to pick out specific sounds from background noise and identify the direction a sound, like a siren, is coming from.


SoundWatch sends the sound to the user’s phone for classification. (Image: Jain et al./ASSETS 2020)

University of Washington, Seattle


People found the app was useful for letting them know if there was something that they should pay attention to; for example, that they had left the faucet running or that a car was honking. The team is looking into ways for people to personalize the system for their own needs; specifically, to be notified about the sounds they care about — a spouse’s voice versus general speech, the back door opening versus the front door opening, and more.


The SoundWatch app is available for free as an Android download.

Watch a demo of SoundWatch on Tech Briefs TV here. For more information, contact lead researcher Dhruv Jain at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..