The Next Generation of Inflight Noise Cancelling Has no Headphones

Apr 4, 2019

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In a quiet nod to a better aircraft experience, Panasonic recently introduced its newest Active Noise Control technology, which can reduce cabin noise without the need for headphones.

TPG was among the first to test the new technology at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany. Panasonic built a special sound booth complete with full-size, business-class seats to show how they are using sound and light technology to help passengers achieve the optimal rest environment at 35,000 feet.

David Bartlett, Panasonic Avionics chief technology officer, explained that traditional noise-canceling headphones can work well to block noise for many passengers but headphones make sleeping on a plane uncomfortable — unless you are upright or on your back.

So Panasonic sound engineers developed technology that allows the noise to be canceled by predicting and blocking the loud noise from aircraft engines.

Unwanted noise is replaced with ambient white noise and other soothing sounds, by strategically placing speakers around the cabin to combat the engine sound during flight.

Trade fair visitors at the Panasonic stand at the 'Aircraft Interiors Expo' trade fair in Hamburg, Germany, 05 April 2017. The show caters to the interiors of aircrafts and will be open from 04 April until 06 April, 2017. Photo: Christian Charisius/dpa | usage worldwide   (Photo by Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images)
The Panasonic stand at the Aircraft Interiors Expo trade fair in Hamburg (Photo by Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images)

My experience in a business-class seat in Panasonic’s sound lab allowed me to turn the noise canceling in the cabin on and off with the push of a button. The high-end sounds of the engine simulator were definitely diminished; unfortunately, the low-end sounds were still prevalent.

Panasonic also adds sounds to the sleep cycle, at the same time as canceling unwanted ones — birds chirped as the sun rose through special mood lighting and the experience was not unlike a gentle, though rapid, sunrise.

For passengers in enclosed suites like the new Emirates 777 Suite the news is even better. This technology adapts well to the high walls of a suite and can theoretically be controlled by passengers adjusting noise-canceling speakers within the suite itself, rather than around the cabin.

The bad news is that this technology won’t be coming to a coach cabin anytime soon. Speakers must be positioned in the cabin in such a way that passengers crammed into window seats underneath speakers won’t benefit from the noise-canceling technology.

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