If you’ve ever seen an experienced radio operator pull a signal out of the noise, or talked to someone in a crowded noisy restaurant, you know the human brain is excellent at focusing on a particular sound. This is sometimes called the cocktail party effect and if you wear a hearing aid, this doesn’t work as well because the device amplifies everything the same. A German company, Fraunhofer, aims to change that. They’ve demonstrated a hearing aid that uses EEG sensors to determine what you are trying to hear. Then it uses that information to configure beamforming microphone arrays to focus in on the sound you want to hear.
In addition to electronically focusing sound, the device stimulates your brain using transcranial electrostimulation. A low-level electrical signal tied to the audio input directly stimulates the auditory cortex of your brain and reportedly improves intelligibility.
The company isn’t producing the hearing aids yet but is working with the University of Oldenburg to bring the devices to their full potential. Although they are working on making the device more like a conventional hearing aid, it is difficult to imagine that you would not have to wear something over your head. Perhaps the EEG part could go in a sock cap.
The company claims there may be other uses for this technology in the medical field or safety-critical work situations. We aren’t sure what that means. Perhaps to know that you are actually listening to something or detecting that you are dozing?
Photo from Fraunhaufer website; credit: University of Siegen, Tim zum Hoff.