University receives funding to develop the hearing aid of the future

Research council ploughs £3.2million into imaginative healthcare project

Date posted

7 September 2020

10:02

Edinburgh Napier research to develop multimodal hearing aids designed to autonomously adapt to their surroundings was among a series of UK-wide cutting-edge projects announced today.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will support the University’s work to the tune of £3.2million as part of the Transformative Healthcare Technologies for 2050 programme.

Walk-through scanners to map the human body and identify cancers, and robotic muscles to aid the recovery of stroke sufferers, are among the other five projects to be announced.

They all demonstrate new technological approaches to transforming care and treatments in the NHS, and underline the importance of engineering and the physical sciences to future healthcare provision.

The Edinburgh Napier project - Towards Cognitively Inspired 5G-Internet of Things enabled, Multi-Modal Hearing Aids – is led by Professor Amir Hussain from the School of Computing.

Portrait of Amir Hussain

Currently, only 40% of people who could benefit from Hearing Aids (HAs) have them, and most people who have HA devices don't use them often enough.

There is social stigma around using visible HAs ('fear of looking old'), they require a lot of conscious effort to concentrate on different sounds and speakers, and only limited use is made of speech enhancement - making the spoken words, which are often the most important aspect of hearing to people, easier to distinguish.

The University’s project is the first to attempt the development of cognitively-inspired, multimodal hearing aids which not only amplify sounds but contextually use simultaneously collected information from a range of sensors.

model of an ear

Able to adapt to the nature and quality of the visual and acoustic environment around them, these hearing aids could result in greater intelligibility of noise and potentially reduced listening effort and cognitive load for the listener.

EPSRC Executive Chair, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden,said: “The projects announced today will develop new approaches which could become routine in the NHS and community and home care in the coming decades.

“Harnessing the latest technologies and the UK’s world-leading expertise will allow us to deliver a step-change in how healthcare is delivered and benefit millions of people, emphasising the critical role the UK’s R&D sector plays in improving the health of the nation.”

The other projects include one led by the University of Edinburgh which aims to develop optical ‘X-Rays’ capable of walk-through diagnosis for conditions such as cancer, and a project at the University of Bristol to develop artificial robotic muscular assistance to restore strength in people who have lost muscle strength or capability, such as sufferers of strokes or degenerative diseases.

A team at the University of Glasgow aim to use quantum technologies to remotely monitor healthcare markers such as blood flow and heart rate to assess wellbeing from the home.

A project led by Imperial College London aims to develop new technology to monitor single neurons within the brain to improve treatment for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, while a project led by Heriot-Watt University aims to create cutting-edge deep ultraviolet light therapies to tackle infections and deliver precision therapy for cancer.