A Cambridge audio software company has launched a crowdfunding campaign in a bid to get its breakthrough hearing technology into the hands of those who struggle to hear in noisy environments. 

The small team at AudioTelligence originally planned to work with one of the large hearing aid companies to bring its assistive listening technology to market. But it has met with resistance—despite the fact that trials of its Orsana prototype have led to a flood of enquiries from individuals who suffer from the so-called ‘cocktail party problem,’ according to the company.

Now the company has decided to go it alone with its mission to help those affected. Research by Harris Interactive has found that more than 80% of adults aged between 40 and 64 find it difficult to follow conversations in noisy environments.

The crowdfunding goal is £400,000 (approximately $500,550.40) to fund the manufacture of an initial batch of 1,000 Orsana tabletop devices with accompanying wireless earbuds. Supporters of the campaign will be rewarded with one of the first devices off the production line. The aim is then to scale up production quickly to meet the pent-up demand. 

Further reading: Ceretone’s OTC Hearing Aid Gets $300,000 in Crowdfunding

“We have been inundated with enquiries from consumers and audiologists keen to know when our technology will be available,” says AudioTelligence CEO Sue Handley Jones. “So we have decided to take matters into our own hands and manufacture Orsana ourselves – funding the production through this crowdfunding campaign. Our unwavering belief in the tremendous benefits of our technology drives our passion to make it accessible to everyone who needs it.” 

Orsana is a small, lightweight device that uses built-in microphones and advanced algorithms to separate speech from noise. All the user has to do is place the device on a table and clear speech will be delivered to the accompanying wireless earbuds. The device also mutes the user’s own voice to avoid any echo issues. 

The secret of Orsana’s success lies in a different approach from traditional hearing solutions which use techniques such as beamforming and digital noise reduction – these are imprecise and can distort voices and introduce unwanted noises, according to the company. Orsana uses AudioTelligence’s blind source separation and noise suppression technologies to ensure high performance and low latency of just 50ms to avoid ‘lip sync’ issues. In a typical cafe or restaurant setting, Orsana has been shown to increase speech understanding from 5% to 98%. 

“With Orsana taking care of the noise, I can chat with my friends and family without struggling to hear what they are saying – even in noisy pubs and restaurants,” says Tony Roberts, who took part in one of the Orsana trials. “It is probably difficult for people who don’t suffer from the cocktail party problem to appreciate just what a major breakthrough this device is. It is a real game changer for me.”

Photo: AudioTelligence