Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington are creating better hearing aids by developing a more efficient, low-power integrated circuit (IC). Miniaturization is a very important factor in the design of hearing aid implants, and the researchers are challenged with making the device as small as possible without losing function. The technology will include an IC for a tiny microphone that is inspired by the auditory system of a parasitic fly that is known for its exceptionally small ear.
The ultimate goal of the project is to improve the quality of life for people who are hearing impaired. There are several flaws with current hearing aids. In-ear devices, for example, don’t provide directional information, so users can’t be sure where a sound is coming from. Over-the-ear hearing aids are bulky and require two microphones. “Even the smallest standard directional hearing aids really are still too bulky and they cannot reside comfortably on the user’s ear for a long time,” Researcher Sungyong Jung said. “The new system will be highly efficient and allows the size of the hearing aid to be reduced.”
The new hearing aid will incorporate a direction-tracking algorithm and novel circuits that combine an amplifier and an analog to digital converter in one package. It will therefore have directional hearing and overall improved sound quality. It will also be controlled by a smartphone and compatible with IoT-ready electronic devices.
Jung has personally experienced partial hearing loss as a result of not wearing proper ear protection when firing weapons while serving in the South Korean military. He’s certainly not alone: the World Health Organization reports that 360 million people worldwide have disabled hearing loss, and less than ten percent of global need for hearing aids is being met. The work is funded by a grant from the Korean Electrotechnology Research Institute.