OSPA: high-fidelity hearing aid design from think/thing
June 5, 2008 The latest offering from innovative industrial design team think/thing is the OSPA (Optical Speckle-Pattern Analysis), a unique hearing aid which is non-invasive, has a visually attractive design and uses a process called speckle-pattern analysis to read vibrations and produce sound.
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, one in ten Americans suffer from hearing loss, and with a rising aging population, that number is likely to increase. However, many patients dislike the look and feel of traditional hearing aids and it may take some time to find one that works effectively. In addition, patients often suffer from sound feedback, ear occlusion and difficulty of sound due to the microphone being placed near the hearing aid speaker. Recognizing the inadequacies of traditional hearing aids and aiming to overcome the negative public perception which can be associated with hearing aids, think/thing designed OSPA, a hearing aid which not only looks stylish, but is highly proficient at improving sound quality using as much of the functioning ear as possible.
OSPA is not designed to be hidden from sight, in fact with its streamlined, elegant, magnesium frame it looks more like a fashion accessory. However there is function within that frame, OSPA uses lasers and optics to read mechanical vibrations and has the potential to provide well-balanced, natural and high resolution sound.
Unlike other hearing aids which use a microphone and speaker to amplify sound, OSPA uses bone conduction to transmit sound to the the inner ear. When a sound signal is received by the external ear, an optical sensor picks up the vibrations of the ear drum, reconstructs the sound and sends it to the ear bud via an optical fiber. A signal is then sent to the laser interferometer which is contained in the bulged section worn at the back of the head. The signal is read using a photodiode or digital camera device. One imaging technique that may be used is the speckle pattern technique which is produced by the mutual interference of coherent wavefronts that are subject to phase differences. The signal is processed and amplified according to each patient’s individual requirements and is then sent back to the ear via a bone conduction transducer placed external to the skull on the mastoid bone. The rich, complex auditory signal is then returned to the cochlea.
OSPA contains a central processor, a laser interferometer, and optical fiber technologies contained within a cast magnesium casing. Traditional hearing aids need to have the battery replaced on average, every 5 days, but the OSPA design has two options for recharging the battery. It has a kinetic energy battery which is recharged through head movement generated by wearing the device and a plug-in, rechargeable lithium ion battery. As it has neither a microphone nor audio speaker, which are commonly damaged in other hearing aids, OSPA should have a longer life in comparison to regular hearing aids.
OSPA is still in the research stage of production and think/thing are seeking partners who “share their interest in hearing aid technology”.