Researchers at the university of Leuven have developed a revolutionary new hearing aid that scans your brain waves to find out what you want to listen to.
The current generation of hearing aids may be highly advanced, but it still suffers from the same problem as the old-fashioned ear trumpet: how to concentrate on the sound you want to listen to, and filter out the commotion of other noises going on all around.
For most people, filtering out what is known as the ‘cocktail party effect’ is not a problem. The brain does it automatically. But a hearing aid is a prosthetic for the ear, and cannot perform the same function – until now.
“For example, a hearing aid focuses on the loudest speaker in the area, but that’s not always the right choice,” explained neuroscience Professor Tom Francart. “Or the system takes the direction you’re looking in into account. But when you drive the car, you cannot look at the passenger talking next to you at the same time.”
The answer lies in the reading of your brain waves by an electro-encephalograph (EEG). In particular, the waves that are produced when you are concentrating on one particular sound out of many.
“The big disadvantage is that you have to take into account a 10-20 second delay for the system to work with reasonable certainty,” Prof. Francart said.
The latest developments are overcoming that problem, too, biomedical engineering expert Alexander Bertrand said. Using artificial intelligence and brain waves, the hearing aid is able to determine the direction of the person you are listening to, and a sort of acoustic camera can then target that source and suppress background noise.
“That can now be possible on average within a second,” he said. “That is a big step, because that is a realistic time span if you want to switch from one speaker to another.”
Sadly, however, it could take some time yet for the smart hearing aid to be widely available, Prof. Francart said.
“In the lab we measure the brain waves of a test subject with a cap covered in electrodes. That is not feasible in real life. But research is already being done into hearing aids with built-in electrodes.”