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A New Direction

Inventors in Europe are working on a “completely new alternative to a conventional hearing device”. The all-new device is an eardrum-hugging disk which uses a piezoelectric transducer.

Though only surfacing recently in the news, this new innovation has been in the works for a little while now, having advanced through several of the scientific and legal steps of the production process.

Clinical testing is being set up which should pave the way towards EU-wide registration through CE marking in under a year.

How does it work?

The developers believe their invention will not only be an alternative to the conventional hearing device, but a better one too.

The “MEMS” (Micro-Electro-Mechanical-Systems) apparently better satisfies the two general goals of hearing device technology.

– Better Hearing Sound Quality

– Discrete, hardly visible parts

The better hearing sound quality is achieved via the nature of the device; in that it stimulates the eardrum directly as opposed to amplifying sound prior to it reaching the ear drum in conventional solutions.

The goal of discreteness is handled like never before, as the entire device is situated deep inside the auditory canal. Some IIC (Invisible in the Canal) hearing aids suitable for mild to moderate losses are also situated in the ear canal, though none as deep as this new device.

Production and Development

This project has essentially been funded by a collaboration between two start-up organisations: German Vibrosonic and Swiss PIEMACS. The EU-backed EIT Health Organisation has helped the developers through important stages of the project with valuable funding.

One of the main issues in the development process was the sourcing of ‘ultra-thin’ piezoelectric films, as well as gaining consistent results from the implemented speaker system. The developers ended up deciding to use Zirconate Titanate (PZT) for the hearing device.

Developers were also concerned with the maintenance of ‘such a technically advanced device’ and said nurses and physicians would need to be adequately trained in supporting the devices; a potential obstacle in the production process.

From the Developers…

“At the moment we are at the threshold of clinical testing. There have already been some users within the framework of a pilot programme.” – Dr Dominik Kaltenbacher, Managing Director of Vibrosonic

“We developed nothing less but the “contact lens for the ear“. It’s a completely new alternative to a normal hearing device. The special thing about it is that the loudspeaker of the device is not located in the auditory canal, but that a flat disc (lens) is placed directly on the eardrum of the patient. This fact has two crucial advantages: Due to the direct stimulation of the eardrum, the hearing-impaired person experiences a better hearing sound quality, i.e. the use of the hearing contacts enables a rather natural hearing experience. Secondly, since the lens is placed deep in the auditory canal all other components of the device are accordingly small and thus hardly visible. The combination of both with this completely new loudspeaker technology (MEMS) makes the product a very special one with a significantly high potential for the market.”

Conclusion

This completely new take on the conventional hearing device will make an interesting addition to the hearing aid market, and potentially a revolutionary one. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this fascinating project.