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Hearing Aid of the Future-----SAR prof’s new technology could help people hear by looking

  • Author:Bella
  • Release on:2015-04-24

The White Stripes is one of Erick Gallun’s favorite bands. But years before the rock duo split in 2011, he’d stopped going to see them. Gallun recalls his last, ill-fated attempt, when he was a postdoctoral fellow at BU and the band was performing in a New Hampshire hockey rink. His wife had a great time, but for Gallun, who is deaf in one ear, the experience was a bust. His right ear couldn’t filter out the reverberations in the rink, making the event about as frustrating as a feedback-riddled cell phone conversation. “The concert was essentially ruined,” he says.

Although Gallun didn’t have a hearing aid then, he says he doubts the one he’s using now would have made much difference. But in 2012, he tested a device he believes could get him back into the rock music scene: the visually guided hearing aid (VGHA), being developed by a Sargent College professor.

The VGHA can approximate or even surpass the normal human ear’s ability to choose what to tune into and what to ignore. It does this by making two preexisting technologies—an eye-tracker and an acoustic beam–forming microphone array—work together to counter some of the problems in typical hearing aids. Right now, the VGHA is a lab-based prototype whose components connect via computers and other equipment, but with further development, it could become a pair of portable hearing aid glasses.

Gerald Kidd, a SAR professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences and a specialist in psychoacoustics (the study of the perception of sound), came up with the idea for the VGHA in 2011. He’s now put it together at SAR’s Sound Field Laboratory with the help of an international research team and grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Gerald Kidd, professor of speech, language and hearing sciences and a specialist in psychoacoustics, Boston University Sargent College, Sound Field Laboratory

Gerald Kidd says typical hearing aids sometimes fail to offer help for people with hearing loss in noisy environments because they amplify everything. Photo by Chitose Suzuki

article was originally published in the 2013–2014 issue of Inside Sargent

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