One of the biggest problems facing the hearing community is battling background noise for clear speech perception. All the big hearing device manufacturers are on a quest to solve it with either state-of-the-art engineering, sleek remote accessories and even proprietary apps.
However, now they have more competition in the race to clear speech via the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), particularly regarding app development.
The NIH has funded two projects so far, a five-year, $1.86 million grant in 2020 to develop an open-source research platform for speech processing and hearing improvement, and a two-year, $522,000 grant in 2015 to use smartphone technology to improve hearing devices.
Awarding both grants to the University of Texas at Dallas, the hope is to develop technology to complement what hearing device manufacturers are attempting to do with another accessible option that doesn’t necessarily have to work in conjunction with hearing devices.
“We are using the smartphone alone with no external component or anything. So, it becomes very cost-effective,” explains Dr. Issa Panahi, principal investigator of the projects and professor of electrical and computer engineering.
In other words, one of the apps that Dr. Panahi and his team created can work with hearing devices or simply earbuds that connect to your smartphone either with or wire or via Bluetooth® technology. For patients still deciding on a hearing loss strategy, this could be a pretty powerful in-between option to access clearer speech, with just a smartphone’s microphone.
And for patients with hearing devices, the team’s app rivals hearing device manufacturers platforms in that it can be used directionally, letting the user know which direction a speech signal is arriving, while also offering more flexibility and control with a background-noise suppressing slide-meter on your smartphone screen.
“[The app] can give you an indication if speech is coming in over here on your right, speech is over on the left—so, you then can orient the phone to get the best signal into the microphone of the phone,” says Dr. Linda Thibodeau, co-principal investigator on the project and professor of speech, language and hearing at UT Dallas’ Callier Center for Communication Disorders, where preliminary tests of the apps were conducted.3
Though the app is still in the research stage, the results so far are promising. Dr. Thibodeau has revealed preliminary test data showing hearing improvement with a 22% benefit in people with impaired hearing and a29% benefit in people without hearing loss.
While the hearing community waits for the UT Dallas app(s)to come to market, rest assured, Silicon Valley Hearing has readily available strategies to help our patients hear clearly in background noise. Call us today to learn more.
1. NIH. (2020). 5R01DC015430-05;SMARTPHONE-BASED OPEN RESEARCH PLATFORM FOR HEARING IMPROVEMENT STUDIES. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from https://projectreporter.nih.gov/project_info_description.cfm?aid=9966941&icde=52276855
2. NIH.(2015). 5R56DC014020-02; SMARTPHONE-ASSISTED ADAPTIVE SPEECH ENHANCEMENT ANDAUDITORY TRAINING OF HEARING. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from https://projectreporter.nih.gov/project_ info_description.
3. Kim Horner •Jan. 13, 2. (2021, January). Researchers develop smart apps to help people with hearing loss. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from https://news.utdallas.edu/science-technology/apps-hearing-2020/