Statistical Signal Processing Research Laboratory

Smartphone-Based Open Research Platform for Hearing Improvement Studies


This research is supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH)-National Institute on Deafness and Other communication Disorders (NIDCD) under award number R01DC015430.The content of this website is solely the responsibility of the contributors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Existing hearing aid devices (HAD) with built-in processors and features perform multiple signal processing tasks. However, due to design constraints such as device size, computational capability of processors, memory size, and the number of microphones, application of more sophisticated signal processing algorithms that could improve the performance of HAD are either oversimplified or ignored. To circumvent these design constraints, we propose the use of smartphone and wireless technologies to assist and improve the performance of HAD. The thrust of this proposal is to provide an assistive processing paradigm for enhancing the quality and intelligibility of speech for an individual HAD user in various noisy environments. The proposed research activity takes a two-pronged approach under one overarching principle: improvement of performance of HAD for the individual user by utilizing the capabilities of the smartphone and wireless technologies.

The first component of research provides an alternative approach where the signal processing tasks of the HAD processors are assisted and enhanced by the adaptive algorithms run on the processor of a smartphone. The proposed approach will have the advantage of tapping into the computing resources, features, and microphones of smartphone for running complex signal processing algorithms without placing heavy computation and memory burdens on the signal processors of HAD. When the smartphone is not in use, the HAD operates alone running the previously saved in algorithms. The second component of research is complementary to the first research component. It is on the specific application of interactive auditory training methods for the individual user of HAD. The auditory training algorithm resides on the smartphone and is available to the user as a new application. By running this application at the user discretion, the HAD user can train his hearing ability for better perception and recognition of spoken words in the speech that might be corrupted by various types of residual or interrupting short-duration noise signals. An innovation of the proposed study lies in that while the first research component improves enhancement of quality and intelligibility of speech simultaneously, the second research component individualizes the HAD through user controls. The development of interactive auditory training protocols which can be operated on a smartphone is innovative because it takes advantage of commonly used technology.

Therefore, the users are more receptive to engage in the training programs because it is readily available and can be done in brief moments, frequently throughout the day. For example, some may even engage in training while waiting for a bus or while in line to order food. The proposed research offers the users a personalized and individually tunable application of HAD with improved performance. Furthermore, application of smartphone working wireless with HAD offers a flexible platform for educational purposes, teaching, and future research innovations. The proposed study and its outcomes will pave the way for many new research ideas and useful development to help people of different age with hearing disorders in future.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed study aims at developing adaptive signal processing algorithms to improve quality and intelligibility of speech and to individualize application of hearing aid devices through an interactive auditory training for the hearing aid user with the help of the smartphone and wireless technology in various noisy environments. 

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