A University of Texas at Arlington electrical engineering researcher is developing a more efficient, low-power integrated circuit for directional hearing aids that will lead to a better quality of life for hearing impaired people.
Sungyong Jung, an associate professor of electrical engineering, received a two-year, $144,000 grant from the Korean Electrotechnology Research Institute to build an integrated circuit for a tiny microphone that would mimic the auditory system of a Ornia ochracea - a parasitic fly known for its exceptionally miniscule ear.
The work holds promise for a growing population of people around the world with hearing problems, said Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the UT Arlington College of Engineering, said.
"Dr. Jung's research is a wonderful example of how UT Arlington engineering faculty and their students are developing solutions that address critical issues in the area of health and the human condition," Behbehani said. "A very important element in design of implants aimed at improving hearing is miniaturization. Minimizing the size while maintaining the highest level of function is a highly rewarding challenge that Dr. Jung is undertaking."
Jung's goal is to build a tiny integrated circuit and new microphone that can adopt human ear's non-ideal characteristics to provide the user with better, more defined and directional hearing. That research would represent a significant advancement from common over-the-ear hearing aid systems.
"Even the smallest standard directional hearing aids really are still too bulky and they cannot reside comfortably on the user's ear for a long time," Jung said. "The new system will be highly efficient and allows the size of the hearing aid to be reduced. I am going to design the integrated circuits for it by developing novel circuits that combine an amplifier and an analog-to-digital converter in one form as part of the integrated circuit development."
Jung said a direction-tracking algorithm also would be installed in the new integrated circuit.
Hearing directionally in a small form factor, a key improvement to the new system, could make hearing-impaired people safer because they could hear which direction an oncoming dangerous situation was coming from, Jung said.
Jung added that he would develop a new electronic component for the hearing aid device that covers a wide range of sounds to provide better listening for music. He said the final product also would be a product compatible with IoT-ready electronic devices.
"It could be controlled by your smartphone," Jung said.
Team members include: Cheolhwan Lim, Many Chilukuri and Jay Jen, all graduate students in the UT Arlington Department of Electrical Engineering.
Jung's interest in the subject came when he heard the August 2014 Korea Health Insurance Service report that the annual percentage of patients who lost hearing between 2008 to 2013 had increased from 4.8 percent every year and 45 percent of hearing impaired patients are over 60 years old. In addition, Jung also discovered that 38 percent of patients experiencing noise-induced deafness are under 30, according to the same source.
Jung said his personal story involves a partial hearing loss after serving in the South Korean military when soldiers typically did not wear proper ear protection when firing weapons.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders - part of the National Institutes of Health - reports that one in eight people in the United States aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations.
The World Health Organization states that current production of hearing aids meets less than 10 percent of global need and that about 5 percent of the world's population - 360 million people - has disabling hearing loss.
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