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December 18, 2002

Digital hearing aid technology

From: Radio Singapore International, Singapore - 18 Dec 2002

written and presented by US correspondent Nikki Goth Itoi in San Francisco.
produced by Augustine Anthuvan.

This week we're talking about digital hearing aid technology.

Oticon International, based in Denmark, is a manufacturer of analog and digital hearing aids that are sold throughout the world. Founded in 1904, the company has staked its reputation on the repeated delivery of leading edge devices to the hearing impaired. Drawing on the studies of the independent Eriksholm Research Center, Oticon introduced the first digital hearing aid back in 1996. Newer models have improved on the early digital technology, helping Oticon to keep a step ahead of the market.

With me on the line today is Joel Beilin, the Director of Audiology for Oticon. He joins us from his office in north of Copenhagen, Denmark.

In the 1980s, Oticon transitioned from a technologically-driven company to an audiologically driven company--why the change in focus?

"Earlier than this (mid-70's), Oticon realised that the continuing rise in technological possibilities would not solve users' problems without knowledge-driven. This was the reason for setting up Eriksholm, Oticon's 'independent' Research Centre. By the 80's, Eriksholm was beginning to generate the kind of audiological knowledge needed to drive further product developments. This should also be seen in the light of Oticon developing products based on human values and needs rather than on technological possibilities. Oticon does not introduce product-features because it's possible, but because it makes sence in a users perspective".

How did the transition affect the future of the business?

"It started a trend towards looking at end-users as individuals with unique circumstances and needs. This was also the main motivation for starting the Eriksholm database of 6-700 hearing aid users, in that only by looking at real life situations and talking to real hearing aid users, product development could take a direction towards 'user orientation'. This all lead to the current People First concept".

What key breakthrough allowed Oticon to develop the first digital hearing aid in 1996?

"Two: Success with multi-channel amplification showed the way to go, and Thomas Lunner (together with Linkoping University)'s filterbank design made it possible to implement in a microchip. At that point it was also realized, that all the audiological knowledge we had gained through the years was simply to complex to be realized in conventional technology (analogue), why we started our extremely focussed development of a digital platform".

What three innovations came with the Adapto model in 2001?

"VoiceFinder: The first system in a hearing aid to identify human speech and have the instrument process the signal accordingly...

OpenEar Acoustics: The first effective solution to one of the major dissapointments and 'downsides' to wearing hearing instruments. OpenEar

Acoustics provides significant venting of the ear without introducing feedback or howling. This is made possible due to un-matched digital signal processing...

Client Focussed Fitting: The first 'holistic' fitting approach to take the users needs, preferences and auditory ecology into consideration when prescribing the most appropriate signal processing strategy for the individual".

What audio challenges are researchers working to solve currently?

"The main challenge for the industry right now is probably to find a technological solution for solving the speech-in-noise problem, and to provide better localisation ability for people using hearing aids. Also looking at novel ways to ensure that the user & dispenser together find the optimal combination of hearing aid features for that user".

Copyright 2002 Radio Singapore International