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January 11, 2003

Young inventor develops a 'bionic' ear for music

From: Cambridge Evening News, UK - 11 Jan 2003

A CAMBRIDGE man has invented a revolutionary ear implant which means deaf people can hear music for the first time.

And the young inventor has not only brought music to the ears of deaf people but has also scooped a national award in recognition of his ground-breaking discovery.

Dr Robert Fearn, 31, a development engineer, was inspired by his own love of music to develop an ear implant able to detect pitch. It is able to decode music and send digital signals to 22 electrodes along the inside of the ear.

Previous implants had allowed the user to hear speech but distorted melody.

"I've always been interested in music and I've always wanted to help people in a very direct way," said Dr Fearn, of Cross Street, Cambridge, who plays the trumpet and guitar.

Now his work has been recognised through a Silver Award in the Far Eastern Economic Review's annual Young Inventors Award.

And the implants look set to be commercially produced within the next few years.

Born in Wiltshire, Dr Fearn moved to Australia at a young age and carried out his doctoral-degree research into the "bionic ear" at the University of New South Wales in Sydney in 2001.

Dr Fearn moved to Cambridge with his wife in June.

He now works for Cambridge Positioning Systems developing the technology to locate mobile phone users making emergency phone calls.

"I like to work on projects which contribute to society in some way," he said.

In November, Dr Fearn flew to Hong Kong to collect his prize, which included a $5,000 research grant, $5,000 of computer equipment and a trip to California.

Cambridge Newspapers Ltd ©2003