Originally intended to block sound, modified noise-canceling circuitry now helps people to hear
By Tim GideonPosted 04.16.2012 at 3:55 pm 6 Comments
Of the estimated 36 million Americans who report some level of hearing loss, as many as 20 million have mild to moderate conditions, in which they struggle to pick out voices in cacophonous settings. Although the condition is common, treatment is limited. Custom-fitted hearing aids, which can be adjusted according to an individual's needs, cost as much as $3,000. Users can instead opt for cheaper, over-the-counter amplifiers, but those simply increase the volume of all ambient sounds and do little to help in conversation.
Hearing loss from weapons and explosive devices has been the No. 1 disability in this country’s modern military conflicts, saddling thousands of veterans with anything from tinnitus to deafness. Now a new generation of laser-based implants promises to restore their hearing — and that of civilians, too — with higher resolution than existing technology.
Check out today's featured Invention Award winner, SoundBite, a device designed for people with single-sided deafness.
One day in 2006, stuck in bumper-to-bumper Bay Area traffic, Amir Abolfathi had a eureka moment. Formerly vice president of R&D for Invisalign, a company known for transparent dental braces, he had recently been chatting with a friend who was working on hearing aids. Abolfathi knew that bone was a good sound conductor. What if he could somehow make a removable oral hearing aid—one that could channel sound from wearers' teeth to their ear through the bones in their head?
Most people use the video camera on their phone for bootlegging concert footage or recording drunken antics. But for the deaf, to whom cellphones' audio capability is moot, cellphone video offers a chance to expand beyond texting, and into the more expressive communication of American Sign Language. Unfortunately, low-bandwidth American cellphone lines can't carry video clear enough for sign language.
That's where MobileASL comes in. This multi-university project developed a special algorithm that selectively compresses the video, lowering the resolution on everything but the speakers hands. This lowers the size of the video to the point where it can pass over regular cellphone signals. And now, the MobileASL project has developed the first prototype phone that incorporates this technology.