Sound Crit: Airplane Headphones

Problem: Headphones on Planes

Description: Does anyone not wear headphones on a plane anymore? Whether you are listening to an audio book or a movie or white noise and trying to fall asleep, people are constantly connected to something in the air and that can make lots of jobs difficult. 

  • Seat mate: if you want to get out, but do not want to tap the person next to you to interrupt them, what do you do?
  • Flight attendant: do you need to ask everyone to take their headphones out every time you walk by for drink orders, pretzels or trash?
  • Captain: should you even give announcements if most people are not listening in the first place?
  • Flyer: when do I turn my music down to get information?

Since I do not see people returning to headphone-less days on planes in the next five years, I think our headphones need to be smarter.

General Solution: Headphones that adjust their own volume based on given situations.

Proof of Concept: Using a Unity build to go through multiple situations, I have an interactive flight attendant and another person on the flight that both move up and down the rows, causing different levels of audio feedback. The other flyer does not change the volume as they are likely just going to the bathroom or stretching, but the flight attendant gradually lowers the volume as they approach just in case they need to talk to you. ALSO, depending on their speed, that gradient could change because the faster they are walking then they are probably just going to the other end of the plane and not stopping en route. As the attendant stops at your chair, if you look at them, your music’s volume completely cuts out and returns when you look away. Finally, represented by a key-click, if you are asleep and want to stay asleep because of the flight attendants, your music will not change at all as they walk through. In this mode, the only thing that will change the volume of your music is a captain’s announcement because of its safety implications. In real life and not a computer simulation, each flight attendant would be outfitted with some kind of RFID tag/sensor that communicates with a corresponding sensor in each seat. Since your phone is connected to your seat number because of your reservation, they would sync to provide you with accurate location data. 

Unity files:


I'm Conor and I'm a 2nd-year grad student at the Entertainment Technology Center. I got my undergrad in Mechanical Engineering (with minors in Design and Psychology) from the University of Notre Dame. I am really interested in theme park design, experience design and integrating physical components into XR experiences. I have some Arduino programming experience (it's been a few years), have designed different experiences for ADA compliance, and have full use of the ETC woodshop.

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