The four founders Christian Lüke, Stephan Senkbeil, Merikan Koyun and Jochen Withopf came together at Kiel University (CAU), and started their own company, sonoware GmbH. For the implementation of their founding project, in 2015 they already successfully applied for funding from the government EXIST Transfer of Research programme (Phase I), with support from Kiel University’s Zentrum für Entrepreneurship (Centre for Entrepreneurship, ZfE). At the time they received half a million Euros for the development of their software. Now, the team from Kiel has once again succeeded in convincing the EXIST jury of the potential of their idea. With the help of the EXIST funding (Phase II) amounting to 180,000 Euros, they can develop their prototype to marketability. Their product: software which enables much better communication inside a vehicle.
Modern cars can do many things, but as long as they have internal combustion engines, there will always be audible motor noise. In addition there may be a radio playing, a loud road surface or navigation prompts. All in all, there may be high noise levels during a normal car ride, which we have resigned ourselves to in everyday life. This can make conversations difficult. The sonoware founders have dedicated themselves to solving this problem. Their software can output amplified spoken language, boosted by up to 20 decibels louder than the competition. In doing so, ambient noise will be filtered out, and other audio sources can be subdued during the conversation. The physicist Christian Lüke is certain: "Our software renders interior communication possible."
The four audio and speech signal processing experts were able to overcome two particularly important challenges: the software enables spoken language to be transferred from the rear seat to the front seats and vice versa, in real-time with no noticeable delay. This is very important in a small space like inside a car, because one can always still hear the speaker oneself, and therefore transfer must keep up with the speed of sound. A further challenge that the four have mastered is feedback which is inherent to small spaces. The microphone and speaker are close together and must not interfere with each other.
"With our software, we feel good where it is noisy," say Christian Lüke and Master of Business and Engineering Stephan Senkbeil. Next, the four CEOs want to get into business with suppliers to the automotive industry. The goal: "If we are integrated into audio packages for new cars, car buyers will simply be able to order our interior communication system too in future," explaines Senkbeil. As such, the team focusses on individual solutions. "Each manufacturer works with different processors, has different operating systems and other hardware. The software solution should run smoothly on all systems. We are in a position to respond to individual customer requirements and can adapt the programming to any model," adds Lüke. Individual service coupled with professional programming, this is what their brand stands for.
The founders learned their trade at the Institute of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at the Faculty of Engineering. They also remain closely linked with the working group on Digital Signal Processing and System Theory, led by Professor Gerhard Schmidt. Christian Lüke and Stephan Senkbeil have worked there as research associates, Jochen Withopf is writing his doctoral thesis and Merikan Koyun wrote his master’s thesis there. And it’s not only the support of their professor the four can rely on. A master’s student and two research assistants are currently supporting the sonoware team. In this way, the students can gain practical experience in a business, and simultaneously support the development of additional software applications. Thus, the young company could already prove itself with noise-cancelling headphones, and is developing ways of improving communication in operating theatres.
"We are open to new application areas for our software" emphasises Lüke. However, one thing is certain for everyone: “We will stay in Kiel. Keeping contact with current research and potential employees from the signal processing field is ideal for us."
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The sonoware team has received fantastic support, including from Kiel University’s Zentrum für Entrepreneurship (Centre for Entrepreneurship, ZfE): www.zfe.uni-kiel.de. The founders Christian Lüke, Stephan Senkbeil, Merikan Koyun and Jochen Withopf will also present their founding idea at the Kiel University stand during the 2017 Hannover Messe: www.uni-kiel.de/hannovermesse/en.