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January 15, 2003

Software helps deaf hear music

From: Ninemsn, Australia - 15 Jan 2003

An innovative piece of software to help the profoundly deaf to hear music was developed by a British scientist while studying in Australia.

Dr Robert Fearn, who works in Cambridge, said his creation would allow people to hear music almost normally.

The software can be added as an upgrade to an existing brand of cochlear implant already used by nearly 50,000 deaf people worldwide to hear speech.

The 31-year-old scientist developed his idea while working on his doctorate at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, where he was living.

He recently won a silver award in the Asian Young Inventor of the Year competition.

Fearn said his invention was undergoing clinical trials, and was likely to be commercially available within six months.

He said: "In surveys, the most common request from deaf people is to hear music."

Without the device, people say music sounds like the crunching of plastic paper, with it, it seems almost natural, he said.

He added: "The current device is developed purely for speech, the part I worked on will help them hear music.

"Most work is focused on speech perception, and there hasn't been very much work focusing on music - it's the first research in this area."

Fearn said the device allows sound waves to by-pass the mechanical part of the ear to directly stimulate nerves with electrical pulses.

Users carry an external device similar to a personal stereo which picks up sound waves.

These are turned into a digital code that is sent to the implant and stimulates the nerves.

©AAP 2003