Open Access
Issue
Acta Acust.
Volume 4, Number 6, 2020
Article Number 24
Number of page(s) 10
Section Environmental Noise
DOI https://doi.org/10.1051/aacus/2020023
Published online 11 November 2020

© K. Heutschi et al., Published by EDP Sciences, 2020

Licence Creative Commons
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1 Introduction

Apart from the many new and fascinating possibilities offered by small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – here called drones – there is also growing concern with respect to noise annoyance or even damage. Since the professional use of drones in a commercial context, e.g. parcel drones, is still in its infancy, an estimate of the future drone density in cities is pure speculation. However, it can be assumed that the noise caused by drones will give rise to complaints as the number of applications increases. The still widespread lack of knowledge about the annoyance of drone sounds requires field experiments or listening tests in the lab to derive annoyance/exposure relations. While drone noise can be annoying [1, 2], the emitted sound on the other hand opens up the possibility to detect and identify drones by their acoustic signature [3].

In both applications, be it the auralisation of a drone flight in the lab or the build-up of a database to train deep learning algorithms to detect drones, realistic audio signals for a ground based receiver position are needed. While standard audio recordings only cover one or a few specific scenarios, an approach with virtual microphone signals that are synthetically generated appears more appealing. This allows for arbitrary variation of drone type, flight path, receiver geometry and ambient noise. The synthesis of a virtual microphone signal splits into two major tasks. The first one is the generation of the emission signal radiated by the drone, the second one is the simulation of the propagation effects by time-varying digital filters. The noise radiated by a rotating propeller is composed of strong tonal components [4] related to the rotational speed and a broad-band signal. A fundamental decision has to be made on how this emission signal is obtained. The most versatile approach would be a synthesis from scratch based on the physics of the sound generation mechanism. It has been shown that computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations allow to predict the amplitudes of the tonal components with reasonable accuracy [5]. However these simulations are somewhat idealised as they do not consider broad band rotor noise and motor noise and also ignore interactions between rotors and between rotor and the drone body that has been shown to be important [6]. Moreover, during operation, propeller imperfections can also lead to changes in the acoustic signature [7], which can hardly be reproduced with theoretical models. In our context, an exact acoustical signature is considered essential. Therefore sound pressure recordings in the lab are used to derive an appropriate initial emission signal that is then modified to simulate the radiation and propagation to the virtual microphone.

Section 2 of this paper reports recordings of drone signals taken in the lab. The experiments were conducted on a set of drones listed in Table 1. In Section 3, recordings in the field are evaluated in order to derive flight manoeuvre dependent rotor speeds and their random fluctuations as a function of wind speed. Section 4 describes the signal processing aspects of the virtual microphone signals. It will be shown that the recorded emission signal has to be resampled to account for the desired manoeuvre specific rotor speed and then filtered to mimic the various propagation effects. With the audio recording as a starting point, the synthesis of the virtual microphone signal depends on the following input parameters:

  • drone type

  • manoeuvre type

  • flight path of the drone

  • microphone location

  • ground type

  • wind speed and direction

Table 1

Set of drone models used in the experiments and their specs. “Diagonal” specifies the dimension without the two-blade propellers.

Sections 5 and 6 finally compare virtual and real microphone signals and discuss limitations and further improvements of the synthesis.

2 Recordings of drone sounds in the lab

2.1 Set-up

The acoustic emission of a drone is most easily observed in the anechoic chamber [8, 9]. In our case, the recordings were taken in a semi-anechoic room with a rigid floor and highly absorbing walls and ceiling. The lab is specified as highly absorptive down to 100 Hz and has dimensions of 8 m × 5 m × 3.5 m. In order to suppress the ground reflection, the floor was covered temporarily with a foam layer of 20 cm thickness. In the experiments, the drone was operated either attached to a tripod – that is in a fixed position – or in hover condition, in those cases where the drone sensor system allowed for an accurate and stable positioning in space. For the fixed drones, the rotational speed of the propellers (rpm) was varied directly by adjusting vertical thrust. The drones in hover were operated with different payloads attached, in order to vary the propeller rpm.

The acoustic radiation of a drone can be assumed angle independent in the horizontal rotor plane [10, 11]. In the vertical direction, on the other hand, a pronounced directivity is expected. To capture the elevation angle-dependent radiation strength, a multi-microphone arrangement was set-up (Fig. 1).

thumbnail Figure 1

Emission signal recording in the anechoic chamber. The five microphones M1 to M5 cover different radiation angles to evaluate the vertical directivity pattern.

Special care had to be taken to suppress the wind induced microphone noise generated by the downwash of the rotors. To this end, the lowest microphone M1 was covered by a special wind screen (Rycote, model 086014). The substantial high frequency excess attenuation introduced by the wind screen was first measured (Fig. 2) and then compensated for in the subsequent analysis of the data.

thumbnail Figure 2

Rycote, mod. 086014 wind screen effect, indicating a substantial attenuation above 2 kHz with respect to a reference measurement without wind screen.

2.2 Generic vertical directivity pattern

An evaluation of the microphone signals in the different elevation directions and relative to the chosen reference microphone M3 (radiation angle of −30° with respect to the rotor plane) is shown in Figure 3. The average and the standard deviations are to be understood over all the drone types and all operating conditions.

thumbnail Figure 3

Average spectral differences of the radiation strength in the directions 0°, −60° and −80° with respect to the reference direction −30°. The bars indicate ±1 standard deviation over all drone models and thrust settings.

For the subsequent considerations, a generic vertical directivity pattern with weakest radiation in the horizontal plane and a symmetrical continuous increase in radiation strength for positive and negative elevation angles is assumed. In order to easily apply the effect of the radiation pattern to an emission audio signal, a filter representation was chosen as a model. The angle- and frequency dependent average directivity pattern from Figure 3 can be modeled by a second order high-shelving filter [12] with corner frequency fc = 500 Hz, Q = 0.5 and a radiation angle-dependent amplification G [dB] according to equation (1):(1)θ [−90°…+90°] is from a drone perspective the radiation angle with respect to the drone horizontal plane. The amplification G has been normalised to 0 dB for a radiation angle θ = ±30°. The radiation polar plot is shown in Figure 4.

thumbnail Figure 4

Polar plot of the generic vertical radiation directivity model for selected frequencies.

2.3 Rotational speed dependent emission models

The transformation of an audio signal of a drone operating at a reference rotational speed into the signal at a different rpm has to consider a suitable resampling as well as a frequency dependent amplification. The amplification is described here by a third-octave band equalizer and forms the actual emission model. Exemplarily, Figure 5 shows for the DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone the 1 kHz band of the equalizer amplification evaluated for seven measurements at various rotational speeds with respect to the reference signal at an rpm of 6540.

thumbnail Figure 5

1 kHz third-octave band equalisation E as a function of the rotational speed with respect to the reference recording for the DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone.

The relation between the equalizer setting E(i) in dB and the rotational speed R can reasonably well be described by a linear model:(2)where S(i) is the slope parameter for the third octave band i and Rref is the reference rotational speed, chosen here according to Table 2. The baseline third-octave band spectra at Rref are shown in Figure 6, the slope parameters are given in Table 3. For the drones Mavic 2 Pro and Inspire 2, seven measurements with different rpms were available to adjust the model. In case of the drones F-450 and S-900, the model fit is based on two measurements only. Where meaningful, the coefficient of determination R2 is also listed in Table 3.

thumbnail Figure 6

Baseline third-octave band spectra for the different drone models at reference rotational speed Rref, expressed as sound pressure levels in dB and 1.5 m distance.

Table 2

Reference rotational speeds Rref [r/min] for the different drone models.

Table 3

Equalizer slope parameter S [dB/r/min] in equation (2) for the different drone models and coefficient of determination R2 where applicable.

3 Recordings in the field

3.1 Flight manoeuver dependent rotor speeds

At the occasion of two measurement campaigns during one day in 2018 in Thun, Switzerland and four days 2019 in Felixdorf, Austria, the drones were operated in the field. Audio recordings were taken at two fixed microphone positions, one at a height of 1.2 m above ground and the other flush mounted on the ground. A third on-board microphone was attached to the drone by a 0.8 m long cable to capture the emission (Fig. 7). In addition, the position of the drone during the different flight procedures was logged with help of an on-board GPS tracker.

thumbnail Figure 7

On-board microphone attached to the flying drone.

Based on spectral representations of the on-board recordings, the fundamental frequency f0 was evaluated for the different flight manoeuvres. All drone models had two-blade propellers so that the time T for a complete revolution of the rotor is T = 2/f0 and the rotational speed in rpm is obtained as R = 30f0. The velocities of the horizontal flights were evaluated as air speeds by subtracting the corresponding wind speed component from the velocity derived from GPS. Table 4 shows the findings.

Table 4

Rotational speed [r/min] as a function of the flight manoeuvre for the investigated drone types.

3.2 Random fluctuations of the rotational speed of a DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone

3.2.1 Introduction

The operation of a drone in an inhomogeneous wind field requires a control mechanism that automatically compensates for changes in lifting force. This results in a random variation of the rotational speed of each rotor. In order to identify the magnitude and time scale of these fluctuations, repeated experiments with a DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone, equipped with low-noise propellers, were performed.

For the subsequent signal synthesis, the results of these measurements will be transferred analogously to the other drone models.

3.2.2 Set-up

The rotational speed was derived from audio signals captured with a two-channel on-board recorder Sony PCM-A10 (Fig. 8). The two cardioid microphones were oriented towards the two rear rotors (as seen in the flight direction). Due to the proximity effect, the microphone signals exhibit a substantial low frequency amplification. However, as only the identification of the fundamental frequency is of interest, this has no effect on the subsequent evaluation.

thumbnail Figure 8

On-board recorder mounted on top of a DJI Mavic 2 Pro.

To guarantee repeatability of the experiments, a flight route at a height of 50 m along an orthogonal cross was defined with help of way points. Each segment of 250 m length was consecutively flown (forward flight) with a speed of 8 m/s in both directions to create downwind and upwind conditions. In addition, the manoeuvres: hover (at a height of 10, 20 and 50 m above ground), climb (+4 m/s) and sink (−3 m/s) were flown. Meteorological data on temperature, atmospheric pressure and humidity was obtained from a nearby weather station, local wind speed vwind,average,2.5 m and direction was determined with help of a hand-held anemometer at 2.5 m above ground.

3.2.3 Evaluation of the rotational speed

The estimation of the fundamental frequency f0 with a temporal resolution of 1 ms was obtained in the time domain. A frame with a total length of 10 periods centered at the time of interest (5 periods before and 5 periods after) was copied and shifted until a local maximum was reached in the autocorrelation function. This delay was then interpreted as one period of f0 and converted into the momentary rotational speed R = 30f0. Based on a priori knowledge of the order of magnitude of f0, the search range could be narrowed down to avoid octave errors.

As a plausibility check, each new estimate R[n + 1] was compared to the old one R[n]. Based on a power consideration, the condition for a valid new estimate according to equation (3) was established. Whenever the condition in equation in 3 was not met, R[n + 1] was determined with help of an exponential interpolation and marked as an error. Figures 911 show three examples of time series of R:(3)

thumbnail Figure 9

Exemplarily rotational speed – time history for the manoeuvre hover in low wind conditions.

thumbnail Figure 10

Exemplarily rotational speed – time history for the manoeuvre hover in high wind conditions.

thumbnail Figure 11

Exemplarily rotational speed – time history for the manoeuvre sink in low wind conditions.

3.2.4 Magnitude of the rotational speed variation

The variation of the rotational speed during one manoeuvre and flight was evaluated as normalised standard deviation of the rotational speed: σn = σ(R[n])/Raverage. In combination with the average wind speed vwind,average,2.5 m for that flight, a data pair was obtained to finally derive a linear relation between σn and v (Eq. (4)):(4)

For the manoeuvre forward flight, the wind was categorised as downwind whenever the angle between the wind flow and the flight direction was smaller than 90° and upwind whenever the angle was larger than 90°. In these two categories, the full wind speed was considered in the subsequent analysis.

The drone flights were performed 18 times under different meteorological conditions. The average wind speed at 2.5 m varied between 0.3 and 5.3 m/s, the temperature ranged from 4 to 23 °C. Figure 12 shows the pairs σn, for the different manoeuvres and Table 5 lists the model parameters a and b (Eq. (4)) as well as the coefficient of determination. The comparison of the different hover manoeuvres shows an increase of the rotational speed variation with height which is in line with the expected increase of wind speed with height. The manoeuvre sink exhibits very large rpm variations, almost independent of the wind speed. The reason for this is that the drone flies into a zone of very turbulent air, produced by their own downwash. In forward flight, the rpm variation is substantially larger in upwind conditions compared to downwind.

thumbnail Figure 12

Normalised standard deviation σn of the rotational speed as a function of average wind at 2.5 m for the different manoeuvres.

Table 5

Model parameters a [.] and b [s/m] (Eq. (4)) to estimate the normalised standard deviation σn of the rotational speed variation in dependency of the wind speed vwind,average,2.5 m. R2 denotes the coefficient of determination.

3.2.5 Temporal pattern of the rotational speed variation

The evaluation of the time scale of the rotational speed variations is based on the power spectral density of the time histories. For the analysis, the DC-component of the time histories was removed and the amplitudes were scaled for a standard deviation = 1. For the comparison, the different hover operations were combined and an analogous grouping was done for the forward flights. Figure 13 shows the power spectral density for hover, climb, forward and sink. With the exception of the frequency range around 10 Hz, the curves show only a weak dependency on the manoeuver, so a generic spectrum is assumed in the synthesis.

thumbnail Figure 13

Power spectral density of the rotational speed variation in the different manoeuvres hover, climb, forward and sink.

4 Generation of virtual microphone signals

4.1 Emission signal

The starting point is an audio recording taken in the anechoic chamber at an angle of −30° with respect to the rotor plane whereby the drone was operated at the reference rotational speed according to Table 2. The sampling frequency of the recording and in the subsequent signal processing was set to 48 kHz.

4.1.1 Adjustment of rotational speed

In order to mimic real flight conditions, a transformation of the stationary drone signal recorded in the lab has to be performed. To this end, the audio signal is resampled twice. This is achieved by introducing a time-dependent delay Δτ(t) where the time derivative of Δτ equals f(t) and with rotational speed R(t) at time t and reference rotational speed Rref.

A first step implements the constant frequency shift according to the average rotational speed for the specific flight manoeuvre (see Sect. 3.1). In a second step, a random variation due to the non-stationary operation of the propellers in the inhomogeneous wind field is generated (see Sect. 3.2). The required function f(t) is generated for a specific manoeuvre and a given average wind speed based on a random signal with a spectrum according to Figure 13 with appropriate amplitude scaling for the normalised standard deviation σn (Eq. (4), Tab. 5).

The resampling process requires suitable interpolation as access to samples at fractional delays is required. Here, a Lagrange-Interpolation [13] is used to determine the emission sample e at arbitrary time n + s where n is an integer and s is the fraction as(5)

4.1.2 Amplitude equalisation

The amplitude equalisation implements the necessary additional spectrum adjustment after resampling of the laboratory recording to convert it to the emission signal for the specific flight manoeuvre. Table 4 shows the manoeuvre specific rotational speeds, Table 2 lists the rotational speeds of the lab recordings. The amplification E(i) [dB] to be applied in the third-octave band i is determined with equation (2) and the parameter setting from Table 3.

4.2 Propagation filtering

The propagation filter mimics the effects:

  • radiation directivity

  • geometrical spreading

  • Doppler frequency shift

  • atmospheric absorption

  • ground effect

  • amplitude modulations due to turbulences

As the source is moving, the propagation filtering is time-variant according to the changing geometry of source and receiver and reflecting objects.

4.2.1 Radiation directivity

For a specific source-receiver geometry, the radiation directivity (Sect. 2.2) is considered by applying the appropriate high-shelving filter to the emission signal.

4.2.2 Geometrical spreading and Doppler frequency shift

Geometrical spreading is modeled as a frequency independent amplitude scaling with a factor where d is the actual distance and dref is the distance of the recording = 1.5 m. Doppler frequency shift is the result of the motion of the source relative to the receiver and thus a time dependent sound propagation delay. This is implemented by a time-dependent mapping of the emission time axis onto the receiver time axis.

4.2.3 Ground effect

In addition to the direct path, sound is reflected at the ground. The two contributions superimpose and form an interference pattern. The amplitude and phase of the ground reflected wave with respect to the direct sound depends on the geometry and the ground type. Here, a characterization based on the airflow resistivity is used with = 20 000 kPa s/m2 for asphalt surfaces, 5000 kPa s/m2 for compact soil and 300 kPa s/m2 for grass. With help of the empirical Delany-Bazley model [14], a frequency-dependent surface impedance Z(f) is determined and finally the spherical wave reflection coefficient Q(f) is calculated [15]. Q(f) is modeled by a finite impulse response (FIR) filter with 100 taps. This concept can also be applied to consider reflections at other surfaces, such as building facades with their corresponding flow resistivities.

4.2.4 Air absorption

Air absorption considers the additional frequency-dependent attenuation as the sound wave travels through air. The standard ISO 9613-1 [16] offers a set of formulas to calculate temperature and humidity dependent spectral air absorption that is finally represented by a linear phase FIR filter with 50 taps.

4.2.5 Turbulence effects

As a consequence of temporal and local inhomogeneities of the atmosphere, the amplitude of a sound wave at a receiver location in distance d varies randomly [17]. Following reference [18] this phenomenon is modeled by a high-shelving filter with Q = 0.52 and [12] (Fig. 14). The filter amplification G expressed in dB is steered by a fourth-order 2 Hz low-pass filtered white noise signal with a standard deviation of 1 dB.

thumbnail Figure 14

Five different realisations of the high-shelving filter amplitude response (G = −4, −2, 0, +2, +4 dB) where Q = 0.52 and d = 150 m → fc = 816 Hz.

4.3 Background noise

The last step in the generation of the virtual microphone signal is the superposition of any desired background noise. Calibrated recordings or synthesised environmental sounds are suitable for this purpose.

5 Virtual vs. real microphone signals

As an example, Figure 15 shows spectrograms of a recording taken at 1.2 m above ground during the 2018 campaign and the corresponding synthesis based on the lab recordings. The drone was a DJI F-450 in forward flight with a speed of 8 m/s at a height of 10 m above ground. Background noise that was added to the synthesis was recorded during a non-flight period.

thumbnail Figure 15

Comparison of recorded (top) and synthesized (bottom) microphone signal.

The overall picture is dominated by a time-dependent interference pattern due to the superposition of direct and ground reflected sound. The comparison of the recording and the synthesis confirms an accurate simulation of the ground effect. The Doppler frequency shift of the 8 kHz component in the recording can also been seen in the synthesis, however, down-shifted and randomly varied in frequency due to an adjustment of the rotational speed. Also the air absorption induced attenuation of the high frequencies before and after the time of shortest distance in the synthesis is in line with the recording. The comparison demonstrates the principal validity of the synthesis method and the capability to correctly model the relevant propagation effects.

The synthesis approach in its present state creates very plausible signals; however, it still has some limitations:

  • The synthesis considers the manoeuvre and the geometry of the flight path of the drone but ignores flight dynamics. Non-stationary operating conditions such as e.g. a transition from hover to forward flight can not be modeled yet.

  • So far both, the constant and random pitch shift processes modify the full emission signal, assuming that the frequency of each signal component scales with the rotational speed. As the high-frequency tonal component (likely the electric power supply) in Figure 15 shows, this is not necessarily the case.

  • The emission signal captured in the lab is composed of the superposition of all rotors. Consequently, a rotor-individual adjustment of the rotational speed is not possible.

6 Conclusions

The proposed approach to create virtual microphone signals of flying drones allows to efficiently (that means without having to record every signal separately) synthesize a large set of very plausible audio data to train machine learning algorithms and for auralisation purposes. The synthesis process is composed of an emission signal generation and a propagation filtering step. Here, the emission signal is based on a lab recording that is subsequently manipulated to simulate a manoeuvre dependent rotational speed of the rotors and non-stationary conditions in the field. The lab recordings can be obtained quickly and inexpensively, so that further drone models or variants with e.g. modified propellers [19] can be added to a collection with only little effort. So far, the necessary resampling process performs a broad-band pitch-shift that ignores rotor specific characteristics. A decoding of the emission signal into individual components and subsequent signal synthesis [20] would introduce more flexibility to more specifically vary the pitch. Further refinement of the synthesizer could be achieved by a breakdown of total emission into individual rotor signals. This would allow for a rotor-individual random variation of rotational speed. However, care must be taken not to loose the interaction phenomena between the rotors [21]. The propagation effects that transform the emission into a signal at a stationary receiver are physically well understood and can be implemented efficiently by digital filters. Greater effort must be made to include shielding and reflection effects in urban areas.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Acknowledgments

The project was funded by armasuisse S+T. The field measurement campaign mentioned in this article was conducted in collaboration with Joanneum Research from Austria, armasuisse S+T, RUAG from Switzerland and Austrian Bundesheer.

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Cite this article as: Heutschi K, Ott B, Nussbaumer T & Wellig P. 2020. Synthesis of real world drone signals based on lab recordings. Acta Acustica, 4, 24.

All Tables

Table 1

Set of drone models used in the experiments and their specs. “Diagonal” specifies the dimension without the two-blade propellers.

Table 2

Reference rotational speeds Rref [r/min] for the different drone models.

Table 3

Equalizer slope parameter S [dB/r/min] in equation (2) for the different drone models and coefficient of determination R2 where applicable.

Table 4

Rotational speed [r/min] as a function of the flight manoeuvre for the investigated drone types.

Table 5

Model parameters a [.] and b [s/m] (Eq. (4)) to estimate the normalised standard deviation σn of the rotational speed variation in dependency of the wind speed vwind,average,2.5 m. R2 denotes the coefficient of determination.

All Figures

thumbnail Figure 1

Emission signal recording in the anechoic chamber. The five microphones M1 to M5 cover different radiation angles to evaluate the vertical directivity pattern.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 2

Rycote, mod. 086014 wind screen effect, indicating a substantial attenuation above 2 kHz with respect to a reference measurement without wind screen.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 3

Average spectral differences of the radiation strength in the directions 0°, −60° and −80° with respect to the reference direction −30°. The bars indicate ±1 standard deviation over all drone models and thrust settings.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 4

Polar plot of the generic vertical radiation directivity model for selected frequencies.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 5

1 kHz third-octave band equalisation E as a function of the rotational speed with respect to the reference recording for the DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 6

Baseline third-octave band spectra for the different drone models at reference rotational speed Rref, expressed as sound pressure levels in dB and 1.5 m distance.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 7

On-board microphone attached to the flying drone.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 8

On-board recorder mounted on top of a DJI Mavic 2 Pro.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 9

Exemplarily rotational speed – time history for the manoeuvre hover in low wind conditions.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 10

Exemplarily rotational speed – time history for the manoeuvre hover in high wind conditions.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 11

Exemplarily rotational speed – time history for the manoeuvre sink in low wind conditions.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 12

Normalised standard deviation σn of the rotational speed as a function of average wind at 2.5 m for the different manoeuvres.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 13

Power spectral density of the rotational speed variation in the different manoeuvres hover, climb, forward and sink.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 14

Five different realisations of the high-shelving filter amplitude response (G = −4, −2, 0, +2, +4 dB) where Q = 0.52 and d = 150 m → fc = 816 Hz.

In the text
thumbnail Figure 15

Comparison of recorded (top) and synthesized (bottom) microphone signal.

In the text

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