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Data-collecting sensors are all the rage in the tech industry right now. Microsoft Research is testing a new use for one of the most common sensors — using the smartphone microphone to record snippets of sound from bars, restaurants and other businesses, to give web searchers a better sense for the level of activity and noise at any moment in time.

ambientsoundThe snippets of sound would be crowdsourced from people who check in at particular locations, grabbing snippets of ambient noise through a special app. Microsoft’s algorithms analyze the sound and report in real time on the occupancy level, noise, music and chatter.

“The user can actually filter out the businesses depending on the metadata,” explains Microsoft researcher Dimitrios Lymberopoulos in the video above. For example, someone looking for a busy happy hour or a quiet place for a family meal could filter the results depending on what they want.

The project is still in the research phase, but Lymberopoulos says it represents “the next generation of the local search experience.”

Wait a second — an app that records what’s happening inside a bar? Somebody tell the 5 Point they’ve got another new technology to ban!

The project was featured at Microsoft Research’s internal TechFest event last week. MIT Technology Review has more on the technology in a post today.

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