New hearing aids are being developed in Germany that could offer very high performances at extremely low prices.
The device, which is being created by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, will feature a 1.2mm electroacoustic transducer, which essentially acts as a piezoelectric microactuator. The hearing aid will be placed between the inner and middle of the ear, transmitting signals to the inner parts of the ear through mechanical vibrations. Even though the implant will be really small for patients, it will be able to have an output volume of up to 120dB.
Engineer Dominik Kaltenbacher said: "The electroacoustic transducer works on the same principle as bending actuators. This high performance is necessary for good speech comprehension, particularly for high pitched sounds."
The bending parts of the aid will be arranged in a pie-shape and will be formed from both silicon and piezoceramics. When a small voltage is applied to the equipment, the parts will bend upwards and form a mechanical vibration in the ear. Such vibrations will then spread to the round window membrane of the inner ear and thus simulate the patient’s auditory nerve.
Developers further argued that due to the low cost of development, the hearing aids will be available on the market at very low prices for consumers. The small transducer will hopefully be comfortable for patients too.
Hearing aids are recommended for all individuals who are suffering from, or have the onset of, hearing loss. With recent technological developments, scientists hope to implement Wi-Fi, remote control and bluetooth technology in new models and forms.
The research team are currently testing prototypes of the hearing aid, and hope to have the first full trials implemented next year.