NeuroSensEar – Bio-inspired acoustic sensor technology for highly efficient hearing aids

© TU Ilmenau/ari

More than 11 percent of people in the European Union are affected by hearing loss, but only 41 percent of them use hearing aids. This is partly because these people find it difficult to distinguish speech from background noise with conventional hearing aids. Others do without hearing aids because fitting the devices by a specialist is often complicated and time-consuming. 

Increasing acceptance of hearing aids

The project "NeuroSensEar: Neuromorphic acoustic sensor technology for high-performance hearing aids of tomorrow" aims to improve the acceptance and supply of hearing aids by developing an intelligent and adaptive MEMS sensor that automatically adjusts to the user's individual hearing situation and hearing loss. To do this, the sensor will be equipped with a controller that reacts in real time to different acoustic scenarios and recognizes and learns new hearing situations throughout the user's life. In doing so, the sensor records only the most important information of the sound signal and processes it to facilitate subsequent signal analysis. 

The novel sensor can be used in various types of hearing aids, especially hearing aids and hearables, such as headphones with additional functions to improve speech understanding and suppress background noise. It could also be used in cochlear implants and hearing prostheses suitable for profoundly hearing impaired people for whom conventional hearing aids are inadequate. The sensor could also be an option for deaf people whose auditory nerve is still functional.

Harnessing the benefits of the human ear

In developing the new hearing aid technology, scientists are taking inspiration from the way the human ear processes information. In particular, the sensor's adaptability to different signals, the signal processing directly integrated in the sensor and the close connection between sensor and sound processing, borrow from the capabilities of the human ear.

Responsibilities of Fraunhofer IDMT

Fraunhofer IDMT is working on research questions concerning the control and regulation of the novel acoustic sensor technology as well as the use of artificial intelligence for the analysis of acoustic situations. On the one hand, this involves the development of an adaptive control system that detects acoustic signals and optimizes them through automatic adjustments to enable the analysis of a wide range of sound signals. On the other hand, AI-based acoustic scene analysis involves training energy-efficient audio analysis models with the smallest possible data volumes that can adaptively adjust to changing environmental scenarios over time.

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Research topic Intelligent Acoustic Sensors

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