Thanks to earbuds, people can take calls anywhere, while doing anything. The problem: those on the other end of the call can hear all the background noise, too, whether it’s the roommate’s vacuum cleaner or neighboring conversations at a café.

Now, work by a trio of graduate students at the University of Washington, who spent the pandemic cooped up together in a noisy apartment, lets those on the other end of the call hear just the speaker — rather than all the surrounding sounds.

Users found that the system, dubbed “ClearBuds” — presented last month at the ACM International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications and Services — improved background noise suppression much better than a commercially available alternative.

AI Podcast host Noah Kravitz caught up with the team at ClearBuds to discuss the unlikely pandemic-time origin story behind a technology that promises to make calls clearer and easier, wherever we go.

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