Pay through the noise

Paying for only as much as you want has been extended from mobile phones to consultancy services. All you pay for is the time spent using the software, eliminating the need for up-front capital but still allowing maximum access to a state-of-the-art noise mapping system. Beverly La Ferla reports.

Noise mapping, I hear you say, what’s that? Someone’s pulling my ear. Very few people have heard about it, let alone used it in Britain, although it is regularly used on the continent to create maps of noise patterns in towns and cities.

Not only a novel product but a novel way of paying for it too. Instead of coughing up thousands for the software to be installed on your PC, used once and then discarded, potential users pay a single one-off charge and then a low by-the-hour rate for access to a fully comprehensive version when they want to use it.

NoiseMap 2000, created by WS Atkins, a multi-disciplinary consultancy and services company based in Surrey, was launched last Autumn to fill a gap in the market for a software package that would remove the tedious hours spent manually calculating noise levels around roads, railways and worksites.

“We’re aiming at a specialist market but the implications are far-reaching.” Roger Tompsett, director of WS Atkins Noise and Vibration, says: “Take the property market, for example. If you could look up a noise map before buying your house, you might reconsider the purchase if it is situated in a high noise pollution zone.”

Step-by-step guide

The package is composed of several modules; RoadNoise, RailNoise and SiteNoise, which together make up the NoiseMap 2000. As well as the pay-as-you-go option, the software can be bought outright at three levels with increasing numbers of features; Express, Standard or Enterprise.

So what do you do to make a noise map? The first thing you do is log-on to the website at and buy an hour of time (£7 in my case, as a first time user, but dropping to £4 if I use the service frequently). Then, scan in a map of the required area or an Ordnance Survey digitised image (see above); indicate which blocks are buildings (red lines), where the road or rail line is (white lines) and any other barriers to sound such as ground contours or fences (green lines) using the simple, Windows-based interface. Another click of the button and hey presto, the map turns multi-coloured.

Hang in there though, another surprise to come. Entering the heights of the various buildings and walls creates a 3-D virtual image of the area which can be navigated like the latest computer game. All I needed now was a set of wheels and a joystick and I was off.

The ability to produce 3-D images brings to life information that 2-D pictures simply cannot show. Flyovers can be traced in detail and noise from each overlapping road calculated separately. Noise levels on each side of a building at different heights can be determined and double glazing put in only where necessary, saving time and money.

A vision for noise

Clients to date range from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link to the Highways Agency to a railway company in Hong Kong. All have one thing in common: the legal requirement to comply with tight noise regulations.

In fact, the top picture is a representation of a duel carriageway (black lines) in Hong Kong passing by residential apartment blocks. The pinpricks of colour on the buildings are ‘receiver points’ indicating noise levels at that height. Buildings on the other side of the fence (dark red) are shielded from the noise while buildings next to the road are not (see figure 2 for colour key to noise levels).

Common sense, I hear you ask? But did you know that the lower down an apartment block in London, the quieter it can get? Ground-floor rooms are shielded by the buildings around them while penthouse flats, because they are so high, receive noise from every other street in the area.

The future sounds good too. Tompsett’s team, headed by Andrew Liddell, plan to work on database development and improve resolution. They also want to set up a scheme that through collaborative effort will piece together a map of England which can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.

“That’s our vision for the future,” Tompsett adds, “The public doesn’t know enough and with noise maps, they would be much more aware. Plus local authorities would do something about excessive noise pollution – that is really the purpose of noise mapping.

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