A $3.2 million grant from from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been awarded to a research group at UT Dallas, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and New York University Langone Medical Center for the development of new sound processing algorithms that may improve cochlear implants (CI) and hearing aids.
John Hansen, PhD, professor of electrical and computer engineering at The University of Texas at Dallas, and his colleagues at the Center for Robust Speech Systems-Cochlear Implant Lab (CRSS-CILab) have developed CCi-MOBILE, a mobile research platform that allows researchers to “test-drive” new audio processing algorithms in the lab or in natural settings where CI users have the most challenges. The CCi-MOBILE research platform reportedly enables easy development and evaluation of sound processing algorithms/strategies with cochlear implants, as well as hearing aids.
“Our system is portable and supports mobile field testing, which is a major breakthrough in assessing hearing advancements for cochlear implant and hearing aid users,” said Hansen, who holds the Distinguished Chair in Telecommunications in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “A researcher can now connect a smartphone with the CCi-MOBILE platform and allow the CI subject to keep everything in their pocket or purse and go anywhere to try out new processing algorithms.”
“One long-standing problem for academic researchers is testing new algorithms within a cochlear implant system,” continues Hansen. “CI manufacturers must seal their devices, which prevents testing of algorithms with actual implant users. You can’t just take a screwdriver and pry off the outside casing of the implant and start changing the computer code.”
The CCi-MOBILE research interface is a self-contained computer board about the size of a business card. It has inputs that connect to behind-the-ear microphones, which a user of a cochlear implant or hearing aid wears to collect audio. CCi-MOBILE then processes this incoming data with researcher-defined algorithms that are running on a connected external device, such as a laptop or smartphone. Finally, the processed audio is sent back from CCi-MOBILE through another connection directly to the user’s cochlear implant or hearing aid.
The CCi-MOBILE research platform allows for single or dual CIs or hearing aids, or a mix of the two.
“This flexibility will open up many new research capabilities for academic researchers in the field and allow them to test their solutions with CI users in natural home, office or daily interactions,” Hansen said.
While the current CCi-MOBILE platform is strictly a research interface and not yet intended for clinical use, CI users are testing the platform in noisy environments.
“Our system is portable and supports mobile field testing, which is a major breakthrough in assessing hearing advancements for cochlear implant and hearing aid users,” Hansen said. “A researcher can now connect a smartphone with the CCi-MOBILE platform and allow the CI subject to keep everything in their pocket or purse and go anywhere to try out new processing algorithms.”
The late Dr. Philipos Loizou, a professor of electrical engineering at UT Dallas and a pioneer in the field of cochlear implants and hearing aids, originally had the idea to run code on an external computing platform. He developed an interface that enabled an external personal digital assistant to process acoustic signals, such as speech, through a microphone worn behind an individual’s ear.