Hearing the words beneath the noise

Aug 05, 2009

Hearing aids and cochlear implants act as tiny amplifiers so the deaf and hard-of-hearing can make sense of voices and music. Unfortunately, these devices also amplify background sound, so they're less effective in a noisy environment like a busy workplace or café.

But help is on the way. Prof. Miriam Furst-Yust of Tel Aviv University's School of Electrical Engineering has developed a new software application named "Clearcall" for cochlear implants and hearing aids which improves speech recognition for the hard-of-hearing by up to 50%.

"Hearing-impaired people have a real problem understanding speech," says Prof. Furst-Yust. "Their devices may be useful in a quiet room, but once the background noise levels ramp up, the devices become less useful. Our algorithm helps filter out irrelevant noise so they can better understand the voices of their friends and family."

Based on a cochlear model that she devised, the new patented technology is now being developed to improve the capabilities of existing and digital hearing aids. Adding Clearcall to current technology is quite straightforward, says Prof. Furst-Yust, and requires only add-on software for existing devices.

Better hearing through math

"We've developed a mathematical model of the ear that shows how speech recognition works. The math is complicated, but basically we're cleaning auditory information before it goes to the brain. We get rid of some of the information ― the background noise ― so that the hearing-impaired have an easier time 'filling in' missing information that their ears can't give them," explains Prof. Furst-Yust.

The software was originally developed for use in cell phones, but Clearcall introduced distortions that people with healthy hearing found distracting. That's when Prof. Furst-Yust started applying the methodology to hearing aids.

"It takes some getting used to," she notes, "but people who have been wearing all their lives have no problem getting the most from Clearcall. And we can train the newly hearing impaired in a quick introductory session."

A rap on sound pollution

Clearcall works with the brain's own sound recognition faculties to help the hearing aid wearer filter out . To a person with normal hearing, a Clearcall-filtered voice will sound distorted, the same way it's hard for some people to recognize voices and words over the telephone. And even to the newly hearing impaired, Clearcall will sound different. But with continued use, the software improves the clarity of voices from 30 to 50%. Prof. Furst-Yust is currently preparing the results of her study for publication. It is based on people with only 20% of their hearing intact.

Available for licensing through Tel Aviv University's commercialization company, Ramot, the software could become part of an existing implant or device in a matter of months once the right strategic partner is found.

Prof. Furst-Yust continues to refine her algorithm for future applications and foresees the invention of an ultimate device for filtering out the things normal hearers don't want to hear, like the boombox next to us on the subway. She believes it will be easier to target music than voices, since our brains are trained to already listen to music differently.

Source: Tel Aviv University (news : web)

Explore further: PsiKick's batteryless sensors poised for coming 'Internet of things'

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Varibel, the glasses that hear

Apr 07, 2006

Today a new hearing aid in the form of a pair of glasses was unveiled. These hearing-glasses are called 'Varibel' and offer older people the chance to stay active longer - free from the aesthetically unpleasing and technologically ...

MRI machines may damage cochlear implants

Dec 01, 2008

Patients with cochlear implants may want to steer clear of certain magnetic imaging devices, such as 3T MRI machines, because the machines can demagnetize the patient's implant, according to new research published in the ...

Recommended for you

Large streams of data warn cars, banks and oil drillers

Apr 16, 2014

Better warning systems that alert motorists to a collision, make banks aware of the risk of losses on bad customers, and tell oil companies about potential problems with new drilling. This is the aim of AMIDST, the EU project ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

White House updating online privacy policy

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...