It runs in the family for UP bioengineering student who has developed communication aide

University of Pretoria’s engineering student Natalie Hanekom, 22.

University of Pretoria’s engineering student Natalie Hanekom, 22.

Published Apr 2, 2024


An engineering student at the University of Pretoria (UP), Natalie Hanekom has always been fascinated by science and her journey into the field of engineering began long before she enrolled for the course.

The 22-year-old said her upbringing was inspired by scientific curiosity, which is unsurprising, given that electronic engineering runs in her family.

“Both my parents are accomplished electronic engineers and they cultivated an environment of learning within their home, with every corner adorned with bookshelves containing engineering and scientific textbooks,” she said.

This engineering student developed an acoustic microphone array beamformer to improve auditory communication.

This device uses a set of microphones to create a virtual pattern that mutes or lowers the volume of sounds coming from certain directions while adding sound from other directions.

She said, the device consists of a set of microphones working together to create a virtual pattern that allows sounds from certain directions to be heard while muting or turning down the volume on sounds coming from other directions.

“This spatial hearing enables microphone arrays to perform various tasks, such as cancelling background noise like from a diesel generator, as well as the speech of interfering voices and all the reflected sounds in rooms,” she said.

Hanekom further said, the device also separates the speech of many people or the sounds of musical instruments in an orchestra, makes 3D sound recordings for spatial music, and localises and tracks speakers in a room.

For her project, she tracked and localised a moving person, steering the beam in their direction to extract their voice while cancelling background noise. She also used their direction to steer a video camera in their direction as they moved.

“I had a great time working on the project, even though there were a lot of possibilities to consider when I first started. I had to read numerous research articles, as well as textbooks, and I found it difficult to go through all the information in a way that made sense for someone who was completely new to the field,” she added.

Her methods for accomplishing the project included first laying a solid theoretical framework, followed by simulating, building, testing, and reiterating their effectiveness.

She added that the quality education she received as an undergraduate could not have allowed her to achieve this.

“The project taught me that sometimes you can find something you love in places that you did not think existed. In addition, I learnt that I should never give up when things don't go my way, and that sometimes, something is good enough for now, even if there's always room for improvement,” she said.

Natalie will be pursuing a master’s degree in electronic engineering within the department’s Bioengineering Group.

“I am looking forward to diving further into all the amazing engineering and mathematics that drive these topics, and to create awesome technology that will improve auditory communication and experiences for people,” she added.

Pretoria News

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