Having difficulty listening to conversations in noisy cafes and social gatherings could soon be a thing of the past for the hearing impaired, due to technology that cuts through background noise, according to a press release from the HEARing Cooperative Research Centre (HEARing CRC) at the University of Melbourne in Australia. The technology was developed by researchers at the HEARing CRC, the university, and the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL) in Sydney, and initial testing has shown it can improve speech understanding in noisy environments by up to 50% for hearing aid users.

Dr Jorge Mejia

Co-inventor Dr Jorge Mejia tests out the Super-directional Beamformer in a simulated noisy driving environment at the Australian National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL).

Co-inventor Jorge Mejia, FMG, (pictured) who is leading the HEARing CRC research team, said the success of the technology is its ability to reduce unwanted noise through combining the outputs of two microphones located on each side of the head to create a super?directional output. “This in effect creates an invisible beam in the direction the hearing aid wearer is facing while reducing noise from the side. The wearer can then steer the beam to the left or the right of the head as desired, in the direction of the person speaking,” says Mejia.

Co?inventor and senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne, Richard Van Hoesel, PhD, said the technology was solving the number-one problem for hearing aid and cochlear implant users— the ability to hear in noisy situations. “Hearing aid users tend to switch off in those situations as it is too hard to engage,” says Van Hoesel. “This technology has the potential to dramatically improve current hearing devices. Standard hearing aids work fine in quiet environments, say at home, but are not so great at letting the listener focus in on who is speaking when there is background noise in social situations.”

Harvey Dillon, PhD, the director of NAL, characterizes the technology as the most exciting innovation in the hearing aid industry. “I expect it will change the way the general population think about hearing aids,” says Dillon. “As well as directly helping the people who use this invention, the super?hearing it offers may eliminate the stigma that some people still associate with hearing aids.”

The technology known as Super?directional Beamformer is currently being evaluated in hearing laboratories for a range of realistic acoustic settings at the University of Melbourne and NAL. This evaluation involves working with a select group of people who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants to help fine-tune the beamformer’s performance with varying amounts of noise coming from different locations.

The evaluation is expected to be completed later this year, and will provide information needed to include the technology into commercial hearing aids and cochlear implant systems, according to HEARing CRC. The technology has reportedly been granted several Australian and international patents and, at this early stage of development, has already attracted significant private sector interest. HEARing CRC research is financially supported by the Cooperative Research Centres Program, an Australian Commonwealth Government Initiative.

Source: HEARing CRC