New earpieces could prevent hearing damage


Constance Sarantos

Sheng Shen, Romit Roy Choudhury and Haitham Al-Hassanieh together at CSL 241 after discussing their research with their team.

By Eric Rzeszutko, Staff Writer

A team of three researchers from the University is developing hollowed-out earpieces that deliver a noise-canceling signal to the outer part of the ear without covering the ear canal, which could protect against hearing damage and discomfort.

“Today, we use headphones or earbuds that all block our ears,” said Romit Choudhury, professor in Engineering, in an email. “Our research is trying to break away from this requirement.”

Hearing damage and bacterial problems may develop when earpieces that cover the ear canal and prevent inner-ear air circulation are worn for long periods of time, Choudhury said.

The developing technologies contain small microphones on the outside of the earpieces that sense sounds around the room to cancel the effect. The sound is transmitted faster when it is linked closely to the source of background noises, resulting in more effective cancellation.

“The device gets to know the ambient noise via these microphones, and plays the ‘opposite’ of this noise so that noise and anti-noise will (hopefully) cancel each other, leading to silence inside human ears,” said Sheng Shen, lead author and doctoral student in Engineering, in an email.

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    In addition to the microphone on the exterior of these earpieces, the devices use wireless transmitters to aid in their audio performance.

    “Because wireless signals travel one million times faster than sound, our ear-piece gets to know the sound much before it actually arrives at our ears,” Shen said. “Because of this ‘speed difference,’ our earpiece gets a head start, and, therefore, has adequate time to cancel complex sounds and noise.”

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