One of the most famous Australian inventions is the cochlear implant (sometimes called the bionic ear), a device that allows profoundly deaf people to hear. Professor Graeme Clark invented it in 1979. Today more than 450,000 people worldwide can hear thanks to Cochlear technology.
The cochlear implant was designed to assist people with a particular kind of deafness called nerve deafness. This type of deafness results from faults in the auditory nerve, which is buried deep within the cochlea, which is part of the inner ear.
People with nerve deafness cannot convert sound waves into nerve impulses for processing by their brains.
The implant produces a sensation of hearing by stimulating the auditory nerve with very small electric currents. The device consists of both external and internal components, a sound-processor which converts sound into digital signals, a transmitter that sends radio wave signals to an electrode surgically implanted into the inner ear that replicates how the microscopic hair-like structures in the cochlea called cilia convert sounds into electrical impulses.
Cochlear Limited was founded to make the cochlear implant commercially available to people all around the world.
The company started in the 1980s and since then they have been working on improvements to all the parts of the implants to make them easier to use, more comfortable to wear, more efficient and usable by more people. One of the most recent improvements helps cochlear transplant recipients to use their mobile phones.
Mobile phone communications
The first mobile phones were invented in 1973, however the first mobile phones did not become commercially available until 1983. Then they weighed over a kilogram and cost $4000USD. After decades of innovation and investment, people all over the world now use their mobile phones not just to make phone calls, but also to listen to music, watch videos, connect with social media and play games.
Using a mobile phone with a cochlear transplant
Back when the first cochlear transplants were developed, hardly anyone knew about or owned a mobile phone. Now they are an important part of our everyday lives, but there are challenges in using a mobile phone with a cochlear transplant.
People with cochlear transplants do not hear through their ears, but instead through the sound processor implanted behind their ear. This makes ear buds or headphones useless. There are also problems caused by feedback, interference and static. The mobile phone might have to positioned in just the right spot and there may also be time lags in hearing the sound. Cochlear Limited recognised this problem and has worked to overcome the issues.
The Cochlear Nucleus 7 Solution: A Made for iPhone Cochlear Implant
Cochlear teamed up with Apple to improve how people with Cochlear implants use mobile phones. Together they created a sound processor that is able to pick up signals from synchronised electronic devices and stream them straight to the receiver part of the cochlear transplant.
The sound processor uses the same wireless technology of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices allowing direct streaming to the Nucleus 7 Sound Processor from any compatible iPhone, iPad and iPod through a clear secure connection.
They have also developed an adaptor phone clip for use with Android devices or any other smartphone.
This allows people with hearing loss to access and use mobile technology in a way they could never have experienced before, also allowing for the flexibility to control, customise and monitor hearing through the device via an app.