Date Published: 24 February 2011

*Intelligent* microphone system to help hard-of-hearing

Health News from the United Kingdom (UK).

The quality of life for people who have hearing impairments could be improved due to the development of an "intelligent" microphone system by scientists working for the the University of Surrey (England) and the RNID. The device not only reduces background noise, but also has the ability to pick out individual voices.

The 'Mic Array' is the brainchild of Dr Banu Gunel, who invented the technology while based in the University of Surrey's Centre for Communications Systems Research. The patented device works with the aid of innovative sound-separation technology in a specially-designed microphone which picks up all sounds in a room and allows the individual to select the one they want to listen to - minimising other sounds.

" The biggest problem for hard-of-hearing people is hearing more than one sound, or voice, at the same time," said Dr Gunel, now a visiting research fellow at the University of Surrey.
" Our technology uses noise separation software to allow people to focus on one voice and effectively 'turn off' background noise."

The University's Assistant Director for Technology Transfer Martyn Buxton-Hoare explained that the 'Mic Array' works when the user points a specially-designed microphone to the person they want to hear speaking and cuts out unwanted noise.

" This technology will be particularly useful in very noisy places, such as restaurants, or at home or work when groups of people are talking at the same time," he added.

The prototype technology was tested by 40 RIND members who regularly use their hearing aids via the charity's own 'Modified Rhyme Test'. The volunteers listened on their hearing aids to a series of recordings played through a loop system similar to those found in post offices and banks. Listeners were shown a six-word list and asked to identify which of the
six words were spoken. The trial was designed to compare the speech intelligibility of a standard omni-directional microphone and the 'Mic Array'.

" Even with the background noise as the sound source we found that the 'Mic Array' is four times better than a normal microphone, and just as good as if there was no background noise at all," said Tom Fiddian, a senior designer at RNID.

One RNID member who took part in the trial said:

" I don't have to think to hear. I just hear the words".

Mr Fiddian said that people with a wide range of hearing loss would be able to follow conversations where there is a lot of background noise - whereas without the Surrey technology they would still struggle.

The University of Surrey and the RNID are currently in talks with several manufacturers to bring the technology to market.
This technology has been developed with support from the University's Knowledge Transfer Account, a programme set up with £3.85 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to bridge the gap between research and innovation by providing easy mechanisms for university-business collaboration.


Source: Surrey University - News Release.

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