Wednesday, August 26, 2009

London considers the Mosquito

In London, Ontario, the city's Environment and Transportation committee has asked for a report on the possible use of a high-pitched sound repellent aimed at the young. Used in Great Britain, British Columbia, and other places, it is claimed that the annoying ultrasonic squeal can only be heard by folk under 25. A walkway between Victoria Street and Leroy Avenue in east London has been suggested for the initial test.

The device in question is the Mosquito Teenage Deterrent and is made by Compound Security Systems Ltd. (CSS), Great Britain. They claim to have sold more than 6,000 Mosquito systems world-wide.

Today Kate Dubinski on her Thirty Below blog, hosted by The London Free Press, had an online discussion concerning the device. It was a good discussion and I decided to do a little googling. Lfpress.com senior online editor Dan Brown wrote, "I'm not sure I even buy this thing would work. A tone that only the young can hear? That sounds bogus to me." My wife and I wondered the same thing when we read the Jonathan Sher story in the paper.

Listen to this BBC sound clip and see what you think. I cannot hear the annoying squeal, I'm 62, but I understand that some people who are decades out of their teens still can hear it. Can you? If the BBC sound clip fails, try the Teenager Audio Test posted below.

Train Horns

Created by Train Horns

If you have listened to the teen-bothering hum and now would like to know how other folk have reacted, or didn't react, go to Polldaddy for the answer. I believe this poll was designed and set-up by The London Free Press. This is a fine example of the polling abilities offered by the Internet.

I was worried that the BBC sound file did not contain an annoying sound as I couldn't hear it. I was concerned that I was being pranked by the BBC. Well, not to worry as Kelly Pedro, a reporter at The London Free Press, can hear the sound and, yes, she was annoyed. Kate Dubinski even tested Pedro by playing the sound file near Pedro but without her knowledge; she still reacted. "Stop it! It sounds like it's in my ear!"

CSS states that the sound is not damaging, even with long term use. The sound is heard by dogs but they are not bothered. And the units are very robust, having a die-cast alloy and steel vandal-proof housing. Young children will not cry in pain from the units; it takes up to 10 minutes for the sound to become annoying and can often take another 10 minutes before teens move away. For more information check out the CSS FAQS or the BBC report.

If it were possible to protect walkways with these devices, they might be O.K., but only if the area was posted with "No loitering" signs. The high-pitched sound itself is not annoying, at least not in the short term, but the thinking behind the sound is more than annoying. It's digusting and more than a bit frightening. (This is a blanket assault on an entire segment of society in response to a problem caused by a few. If you cannot see this is wrong, we have more serious problems than loitering and grafitti.)

When used outside a store, the Mosquito does not discourage teens from entering, it just discourages them from loitering. Teens would still use the test site walkway, they just would not feel inclined to linger. (Teen vandals might find it possible to squeeze in a little time for tagging and other grafitti in the twenty minute grace period. Teen vandals are fast and efficient, if nothing else. Who knows, they might get a buzz from the Mosquito and feel inspired.)

But, and it is a big but, the units have a range of from 30 to 40 metres. Any home bordering the test site walkway would be within easy hearing distance of the annoying ultrasonic sound. Knowing this, this sound sounds like a problem.

1 comment:

  1. I read your blog on the teen-only headache devices yesterday and I'd like to say that I tried the test myself and I couldn't hear it. However, that doesn't prove anything because my sound card cuts out after 16khz. I suspect the device operates at a higher frequency than that, and I suspect lots computers with low-end sound systems are not better than mine is.

    What bugged me about the Train Horns sound test is that they make no mention of home system limitations. That is self-serving for them because the people most likely to run the test are adults, who are also the potential buyers. These adults would be happy to not hear anything, provided the noise drove off the kids. Of course, if the potential buyer's computer is no better than mine, then nobody could hear the sound test because there isn't any sound.