Next generation hearing aids developed at Strathclyde

(5) ormia ochracea

By Émer O’Toole, News Editor


Staff at Strathclyde University have used the way a fly hears to develop what is claimed to be a revolutionary hearing aid design involving multi-directional microphone technology.

Ground-breaking research by Strathclyde University, and the MRC/CSO Institute for Hearing Research (IHR) – Scottish Section at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, will test an innovative design using a miniature directional microphone – similar to the ear of an insect.

The Ormia ochracea fly, pictured, has a structure in the 2mm gap between its ears that pivots when a sound passes through it so the insect can ascertain the direction from which the sound originated.

Despite significant advances in sound analysis in hearing aids, the actual microphone itself has remained essentially unchanged for decades. Current directional microphone technology adds cost, weight and power requirements to hearing aids compromising their design.

Dr James Windmill, of the Centre for Ultrasonic Engineering at Strathclyde, said: “Currently, users can tell whether a sound source is in front or behind, but struggle to detect sounds from below or above, such as echoes in a large room.

“We aim to solve the problem using a new type of miniature directional microphone, inspired by how some insects hear sounds.”

“The project will also investigate 3D printing techniques to optimise hearing aid design to work in conjunction with the new microphone.”

The research is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council with a £430,000 grant.

In the UK, 8-10 million people are affected by hearing loss, including 50% of those aged 75 year and over. Only 20% use hearing aids, with poor sound quality and poor performance in noisy and complex environments, cited as reasons for the low take-up.

Strathclyde will design, build and test the new microphones and hearing aid structures and IHR at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary will test their operation, including human trials of the new designs.

Dr Bill Whitmer, Scientist at MRC/CSO IHR added: “We are very excited about this collaboration, applying our hearing-aid and hearing-loss expertise to this project.

These recent breakthroughs in microphones could revolutionize hearing-aid design, and could result in real advances in the quality of support offered to those affected by hearing loss.”if (document.currentScript) {