Think about your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers.  You probably know someone with hearing loss—an elderly grandparent or a veteran who served our country—and you probably know how hearing loss can impact one’s ability to communicate.  According to the Committee on Accessible and Affordable Hearing Health Care for Adults, there are 30 million Americans over 12 that have hearing loss, and hearing loss worsens as we age.  Many with hearing loss do not seek or receive hearing health care because of cost, availability of services, stigma, lack of realization that they have hearing loss, and belief that nothing can help them.

While some hearable technologies (ie, hearing aids and assistive listening devices) can enhance hearing for many individuals, there are situations where these technologies do not perform optimally. One particularly challenging situation for people with hearing impairment is understanding conversation in a noisy environment such as a restaurant. Inability to hear clearly because of background noise and intermittent peaks in noise makes following a conversation difficult. Amplification of speech sounds will also amplify the background noise.

The National Science Foundation seeks to alert research communities that this problem is an opportunity.  The goal of this challenge is to develop algorithms or methods that could improve hearing in a noisy setting, NineSigma posted on its website.


NineSigma, on behalf of the National Science Foundation, invites solutions, such as algorithms or methods, to enhance the clarity of conversation in noisy settings.


The total prize pool is made up of $146,000 in cash prizes and the opportunity to present a poster about the winning solutions at Ubicomp 2017 in Maui, Hawaii.

  • First Place: $80,000 and an invitation to present at Ubicomp 2017
  • Second Place: $60,000 and an invitation to present at Ubicomp 2017
  • Third Place: An invitation to present at Ubicomp 2017 and $3,000 towards expenses
  • Fourth Place: An invitation to present at Ubicomp 2017 and $3,000 towards expenses

Prize funds are to assist withe expenses to attend Ubicomp 2017.





Competitors will use a pre-recorded audio file of a spoken conversation in a noisy restaurant setting, to develop the proposed solution and report the words heard in the recording.

The successful technology will:

  • Enable clear conversation spoken at a normal level between two or more people, in a room with background noise and other conversation that vary in intensity
  • If hardware is utilized, use consumer quality devices
  • Offer real-time processing with minimal delay between words spoken and speech extracted, to enable normal pace of conversation

Download the Challenge Summary for a full description of the Success Criteria.


The Challenge Sponsor has produced audio files containing spoken conversation recorded in a noisy restaurant setting.  Competitors’ solutions should process the audio file using the proposed approach and report the words heard in the recording.

Competitors can download a sample audio file now to develop and train the proposed approach.

Directions to access and dowload the sample audio file can be found here.

The final test audio files will be made available on the Challenge site approximately one week before the Challenge deadline.

For full details on the Submission Requirements, download the Challenge Summary.

Proposals that do not include a video, or those that are business plans or executive summaries are not of interest.

Must submit by June 26, 2017, by 5:00 PM EDT to be eligible. Must be 18 years of age or older, and a US citizen or permanent US resident in order to participate.  See the Official Challenge Rules for details. 

Source: NineSigma

Image: NineSigma