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License agreement signed to commercialize intelligent hearing aid

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. For someone with partial hearing loss, picking out a voice in a crowded social gathering can be hard, even with the help of a hearing aid. Thats about to change in a revolutionary way.

Scientists at the University of Illinois recently signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Phonak Inc., a leading manufacturer of technologically advanced hearing aids, to commercialize an intelligent hearing aid system. The new hearing-aid technology will be able to spatially separate sounds and process them in a way much like the human brain. A key feature of the new system is its ability to integrate signals from each ear so that a listener can focus on a desired voice while canceling out background noise.

The concept for the intelligent hearing aid was developed by a team of 12 researchers at the universitys Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. Professors from the departments of physiology, electrical and computer engineering, and speech and hearing science contributed to the work.

"Todays state-of-the-art hearing aids can select a voice in a crowd by applying highly directive microphones," said Albert Feng, a UI professor of molecular and integrative physiology and leader of the Beckman team. "However, these devices cannot effectively differentiate between background noise and the desired conversation when the sources are in close proximity, causing confusion in noisy environments." By allowing the wearer to focus on a single conversation without excessive interference, the intelligent hearing aid will represent a significant improvement over conventional systems, Feng said.

The intelligent hearing aid prototype consists of a pair of miniature microphones, a processor, an amplifier and two earpieces. At the heart of the system is what is called a Binaurally based Intelligent Auditory Processor, which filters the sounds and transmits only the desired voice to the amplifier. The processor works by comparing signals
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Contact: James E. Kloeppel
kloeppel@uiuc.edu
217-244-1073
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
1-Apr-2001


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