Imagine a cochlear implant that can’t be seen on the side of the head. Researchers from America are trying to create one; a cochlear implant that would be completely internal inside the skull. MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories, Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary are working together on this project.
What is a cochlear implant? It is an electronic piece of equipment that is inserted into the head via medical surgery. On the outside of the head is a microphone, speech processor, coil and power source. Under the skull are more pieces of technology called the implant and electrode that pick up noises and send them to the brain, so the brain can change them into sounds. Cochlears do not amplify sound like hearing aids do, instead they ignore parts of the ear that don’t work and send electrodes (sounds) straight to the brain. If a person has a cochlear implant, the sounds they hear are very electrical, similar to a robot. It takes a lot of getting used to, and retraining of the brain, to understand and cope with a cochlear.
What will be different with the new cochlear implant? There will be no microphone on the outside of the head. Instead, the new cochlea will work with part of the inner ear called the ossicles. It will also have a different power source, so instead of the current style cochlear that uses batteries, the new one will be charged using wireless technology (and is expected to last 8 hours after charging).
The new design has no need for an external microphone, as the device uses the naturally occurring ‘microphone’ of the inner ear; the ossicles. The ossicles are small bones inside the ear which vibrate when sound is present. The device would pick up these vibrations and change them into electrical signals, which the cochlear implant can process as sound. The developers are thinking the new power source would need 30% less power and could be charged from a mobile phone, and will only take 2 minutes to charge.
What You’re Saying….
became accustomed to the idea. The surgery and rehab was a trial, as well as dealing with the emotional impact and having something stuck to the side of my head. But life continued, and most surprisingly for me, I grew to love my implant, not just for the improved access to sound, but also for allowing me to become a different type of deaf person. When people see my implant processor, they are curious; they want to know how it works, and how it helps me as a deaf person. If implants were to become internal and invisible, it would remove these types of questions; it would remove the learning and understanding of the barriers that us deaf people continue to face with communication. My making the whole implant internal somehow implies it is ugly and needs to be hidden away to make us more ‘normal’ – which is something which I feel quite distressed about.’
What do you think about this new development? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
Image Credit: Yahoo! Accessibility Lab