Hearing is one of our most critical senses. About 48 million adults in the U.S. have some sort of hearing loss (Hearing Loss Association of America). Computer Science Associate Professor Liran Ma is developing an iPhone-based application to create opportunity and access to affordable, effective and easy-to-use hearing aids.
While individuals with hearing loss can opt to purchase hearing aids, not everyone can afford the hefty cost and required maintenance.
“I first thought about this concept when my mother was visiting. I noticed that she could not hear well and we visited a local audiologist to assess her hearing,” Ma said. “I then realized the impeding cost of hearing aids, and began to learn how they work in order to investigate an alternative option for people with hearing loss.”
Ma started by learning how sound is manipulated (e.g., amplification or noise reduction) so that he could begin coding an app. Hearing aids must be programmed and fitted to an individual based on their level of hearing loss, which varies between ears.
“Users also encounter different levels of background noise in various environments such as a restaurant, movie theater or outdoor setting, thus sound processing may need to be adjusted,” Ma said. “For example, in a busy restaurant you may need more noise reduction than at home where it may be quieter.”
Ma’s goal is to design and implement psychologically inspired algorithms to make the user’s everyday experiences comfortable by automatically adjusting the gains and shifting the audio signals based on the situation and environment. This process must occur within a 30-millisecond timeframe to limit sound desynchronization between the sender and the receiver.
Students majoring in computer science have assisted Ma with his research and app development over the past two years, although Ma hopes to incorporate additional students and collaborators as his project develops.
For the time being, Ma tests the progress of his app by using the iPhone’s microphone and speech recognition capabilities through headphones. These can be connected through a cord directly to a phone or via Bluetooth, however wired connections have the strongest performance so far.
Although Ma’s app is still in the development process, he hopes to involve interdisciplinary collaborators. Professor Chris Watts and Audiologist Tracy Burger from the TCU Davies School of Communication Science & Disorders have offered Ma advice about his hearing aid app concept. From the CSE, Ken Richardson, professor of mathematics, and Brent Cooper, associate professor of psychology, have provided assistance with the mathematical computations necessary for sound transformation and frequency.