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Auditory navigation with a tubular acoustic model for interactive distance cues and personalized head-related transfer functions

An auditory target-reaching task

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Abstract

This paper presents a novel spatial auditory display that combines a virtual environment based on a Digital Waveguide Mesh (DWM) model of a small tubular shape with a binaural rendering system with personalized head-related transfer functions (HRTFs) allowing interactive selection of absolute 3D spatial cues of direction as well as egocentric distance. The tube metaphor in particular minimizes loudness changes with distance, providing mainly direct-to-reverberant and spectral cues. The proposed display was assessed through a target-reaching task where participants explore a 2D virtual map with a pen tablet and hit a sound source (the target) using auditory information only; subjective time to hit and traveled distance were analyzed for three experiments. The first one aimed at assessing the proposed HRTF selection method for personalization and dimensionality of the reaching task, with particular attention to elevation perception; we showed that most subjects performed better when they had to reach a vertically unbounded (2D) rather then an elevated (3D) target. The second experiment analyzed interaction between the tube metaphor and HRTF showing a dominant effect of DWM model over binaural rendering. In the last experiment, participants using absolute distance cues from the tube model performed comparably well to when they could rely on more robust, although relative, intensity cues. These results suggest that participants made proficient use of both binaural and reverberation cues during the task, displayed as part of a coherent 3D sound model, in spite of the known complexity of use of both such cues. HRTF personalization was beneficial for participants who were able to perceive vertical dimension of a virtual sound. Further work is needed to add full physical consistency to the proposed auditory display.

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Notes

  1. System latency was measured by means of two condenser microphones connected to an audio card working at 48 kHz sampling rate; microphones were placed at the headphone pad and on top of the pen tablet, respectively. Latency was estimated as the time difference between these two events: (1) pen impact on the tablet and (2) changing in audio output at the headphones.

  2. The geometrical properties of the virtual map were chosen in ways to ensure detectable elevation cues from the HRTF selection procedure (see Sect. 3.1).

  3. Each distribution exhibited very high skewness towards a physical constraint. After logarithmic and Box-Cox transformations not all conditions passed the Shapiro-Wilk test.

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Acknowledgments

The Authors are grateful to the volunteers who participated in this study, and to F. Altieri for his support in data collection. This work was supported by the research project PADVA , University of Padova, under Grant No. CPDA135702.

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Correspondence to Michele Geronazzo.

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Geronazzo, M., Avanzini, F. & Fontana, F. Auditory navigation with a tubular acoustic model for interactive distance cues and personalized head-related transfer functions. J Multimodal User Interfaces 10, 273–284 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12193-016-0221-z

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