Ground-breaking University of Canterbury (UC) research could soon help people who have poor hearing or work in noisy places hear better.
UC’s New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour research team have been given more than $550,000 of government funding to invent a module to go in hearing aids and cellphones to help people hear more clearly.
Research team leader Donald Derrick said the key to their cutting-edge research was all about the air-flow that happens naturally as people speak.
When mimicked artificially, speech air-flow has the potential to help people understand speech better. We intend to direct speech-appropriate air-flow to the skin of the listeners,’’ Dr Derrick said today.
When people speak, air leaves their mouths and if someone is close enough to you that air flow can be felt. This technology will make use of that reality to help enhances speech perception.''
This air flow will provide another source of sensory information to help people understand what they hear. Since high frequency sounds are the first to become hard to hear as people age, we believe this information could be especially helpful to the elderly and those with hearing loss.’’
The UC research team also includes linguistics Professor Jennifer Hay, audiologist Dr Greg O’Beirne and engineer Scott Lloyd. They understand this would be the first invention of its kind in the world when completed.
Dr Derrick said the ability to communicate successfully was not always easy. People working in noisy conditions could often not use headphones, emergency radios, or smart phones to their full potential. Also people with hearing difficulty often needed listening devices such as hearing aids to help them hear effectively.
This pioneering new project is focused on a potential technique for enhancing the effectiveness of hearing aid, headphones, and other related devices.
Researchers will conduct a series of experiments aimed at helping to understand the full range of ways and circumstances in which air-flow is perceived.
This included researching air-flow enhancement in normal and noisy speech environments, realistic speech contexts, and among normal hearing, elderly and hard-of-hearing populations.
Dr Derrick’s existing research has found listeners incorporate air-puff information automatically and without any effort. He said its use could significantly aid communication, without distracting the listener from the message, or taking attention away from visual tasks.
Improving audio clarity would enhance user experiences, allow users to lower volume and so protect their hearing, and in the case of emergency radios, save lives.
This project will conduct the foundational research necessary to investigate the full potential of air-flow information for enhancing communication across different circumstances and in different listeners. The research aims to lay a firm foundation from which to concretely explore the integration of air-puff information into existing audio technologies, leading to technology that makes people’s lives better.
Improvements to audio technologies would provide social and economic benefit to NZ in that people who may have been limited by their hearing will be able to communicate more effectively. ‘’
Professor Hay said she was excited about the opportunity and was a great example of the type of research that UC and the institute was encouraging. The project will begin on October 1.
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