Innovation Awards profile: Restored Hearing – solutions to prevent hearing damage
Rhona Togher and Eimear O’Carroll of Restored Hearing: “We had a number of customers for our tinnitus solution telling us that their problem was the result of exposure to noise so we decided to look at that problem,” says O’Carroll.
Hearing damage as a result of workplace noise is a problem which has been recognised for many years.
Health and safety legislation requires workers in these situations to be provided with suitable ear protection and to wear it.
The problem in many cases is that they have to remove their ear defenders to hold a conversation with a colleague and frequently forget to replace them afterwards.
Indeed, the classic image of an airport runway worker shows their ear defenders being worn on top of their head.
Restored Hearing, the Irish firm which first came to public attention with its innovative tinnitus treatment originally developed as a Young Scientist competition entry, has now come up with a novel solution to this problem which will allow the headset to be worn at all times and in all noise conditions.
Known as Sound Sponge, the new hearing protection solution responds to its environment, allowing communication at lower levels of background noise while offering very high quality protection when the environmental noise is at harmful levels.
It is designed to be attractive to existing hearing protection users as it is a retrofit product which sits in between the plastic cup and the foam insert that covers the ear.
When in place it makes standard hearing protection up to eight times more effective at higher amplitudes yet it still allows conversations to take place during times when background noise levels are lower even while wearing the head set.
It achieves this through the use of what chief communications officer Eimear O’Carroll refers to as a non-Newtonian material.
Simply put, this is a type of material which responds to force in a non-linear way.
The material used in the Sound Sponge is solid under normal circumstances but becomes increasing liquid when exposed to increasing noise levels.
As a liquid absorbs more sound energy than a solid, its efficiency as an ear defender increases with the loudness of the sound.
Existing solutions to this problem have relied on sophisticated electronics. Foam was used for standard protection products but this only gives a flat response to the sound, not a dynamic one like the Sound Sponge provides.
“All the current products that respond proportionally to their noise environment use electronics to measure the external sound and then react accordingly”, says O’Carroll.
“We had a number of customers for our tinnitus solution telling us that their problem was the result of exposure to noise so we decided to look at that problem. We looked at what everyone else was doing and found that almost every innovation was aimed at improving electronic products.”
The difficulty with electronic solutions is the delay between the noise and the device’s response.
“The delay might be just milliseconds but milliseconds matter when it comes to hearing”, O’Carroll points out.
“This is not the case for the Sound Sponge. Using a material results in an instantaneous response to the environment, opening up industries that our competitors cannot cater for with the same level of efficacy.”
The Sound Sponge will be launched on the world market this summer and interest in the product so far is already encouraging.
“We are developing strategic partnerships with existing distributors in the countries that we want to target. We have already arranged this in the UK and Ireland and we will continue to use this model as the company grows”, says O’Carroll.