Soundscapes Competition: Intelligence agency wants to pinpoint location using video’s ambient sounds

ambient sounds
Photo by: Sandra Tenschert on Unsplash

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is looking for new ways to determine where audio or video was recorded. The intelligence agency specifically wants to pinpoint location using the ambient sounds or the background noises present in audio or video recording.

The NGA is responsible for delivering geospatial data and analysis of any surface of the Earth or planetary happenings in support of first responders, the military, policymakers, and the rest of the intelligence community.

The intelligence agency recently announced that it will dish out cash prizes for projects that can determine the recording locations of audio and video data in its open innovation challenge.

The Soundscapes Competition

The NGA unveiled Soundscapes Competition and will award up to eight cash prizes including a $27,000 top cash prize for innovative and novel methods to analyze and identify a recording’s location based on ambient sounds.

The Soundscapes Competition will also award $5,000 each for the top two academic entries. Contest participants will be asked to come up with means of “identifying, analyzing, and modeling these sound and acoustic scene indicators to uniquely classify audio recordings as originating in one of nine cities,” according to the competition website.

This is the first time the NGA launched an innovation competition exploring the potential for using non-speech sound data to close in on the place where video or audio recordings were made.

Soundscape Competition was launched Oct. 20 and runs through Nov. 27. According to its website, solvers’ responses will include:

  • A white paper describing their technical approach.
  • For each test file, the developer must indicate the city from which the video originated from.
  • For each file, solvers will provide the confidence level generated by their method for each of the eight cities.

Top-tier-scoring solvers will be invited to present a paper containing a description of their methodology and the next steps at a workshop to be held in 2021.

In November last year, NGA Director Vice Admiral Robert Sharp tackled areas that need more focus in the agency, including its bid to boost sound digital enterprise, as it seeks to deliver world-class geospatial information and analysis to the intelligence community.

“We’re developing a way we can measure whether we’re being successful in achieving objectives, supporting those goals, and if not, why not? Is it because we’re either lacking resources, or there’s policy holding us back?,” he told C4ISRNET. “Those are the questions or discussions I want to tease up to the senior leadership so that we can make sure that our workforce has the resources that they need to do their mission and we’re making sure there’s no barrier[s] preventing them from being successful in contributing to mission today and transforming for [the] mission tomorrow.”


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