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Smart Hearing Protection for the Mounted & Dismounted Warrior

Description:

TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Human Systems 

OBJECTIVE: The objective of this SBIR effort is to research and develop novel means to better provide verbal (face-to-face) communication ability and hearing protection to Soldiers operating in the presence of loud, continuous noise (such as that generated by noisy vehicles, watercraft, fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft, etc.) and impulse noise (such as small arms fire). 

DESCRIPTION: Studies performed by the U.S. Army Public Health Center indicate that better hearing and communication ability contributes to improved Soldier lethality and survivability during military operations. To preserve this critical sense, proper hearing protection is essential to prevent hearing loss (temporary or permanent) as a result of noise exposure. Passive solutions, such as ear plugs, are currently available for use. Protection is often not worn, however, in favor of maintaining auditory situational awareness. This can result in either immediate or gradual, cumulative hearing loss over time which, in-turn, adversely affects mission effectiveness by decreasing the distance at which sounds on the battlefield can be detected and identified. Active hearing protection devices (such as the Tactical Communications and Protective System) provide more auditory situational awareness in quiet environments (compared to passive hearing protection devices), but do not enhance communication ability in the presence of high levels of noise. These active devices simply attenuate when noise levels exceed a given threshold. This effort seeks new and novel ways to improve verbal (face to face) communication in the presence of noise, while protecting soldier’s hearing. Hearing Protection Designs shall provide for the following: - Communication in the presence of noise: with fewer requests for repeat commands when hearing protection is in place and operating as intended, as compared to currently fielded hearing protection - Speech Intelligibility in the presence of noise: ability to more accurately understand speech and interpret commands when hearing protection is in place and operating as intended, as compared to currently fielded hearing protection - Lethality in the presence of noise: React to threats in response to commands more quickly, when hearing protection is in place and operating as intended, as compared to currently fielded hearing protection - Survivability: maintain or increase survivability, as compared to performance with standard fielded hearing protection - Mission effectiveness: Shall not degrade ability to complete mission - Protection: Provide suitable protection for safe operation in military environments where steady-state and/or impulse noise is present (as measured in accordance with ANSI S12.6 for steady-state noise and ANSI S12.42 for impulse noise) - Provide for near natural hearing in the absence of noise As technologies are identified and developed, more specific evaluation criteria will be formed appropriate to the technology of choice. Additional Considerations include: - System should not require a wired connection (similar to a vehicle intercom system) between personnel for communication - Continue to provide adequate hearing protection in the event of power failure - Ensure performance is reasonably stable in different operating environments (temperatures, lighting conditions, humidity levels, etc.) - Minimize distracting or confusing sounds that may increase cognitive load and/or decrease situational awareness (such as unwanted electronic “hiss”, erratic or distorted sound, etc.) - Solutions should provide adequate fit across the majority of the population (5th percentile – 95th percentile) - be easy to maintain/clean/keep sanitary - able to withstand rough handling - geared toward operation in multiple environmental conditions - maximize ability to detect, identify, localize, and determine the approximate range of sounds - be lightweight - be compatible with fielded military equipment, such as helmets, balaclavas, and other headgear, as well as approved military hairstyles - be capable of being donned/doffed without removal of helmet - be compatible with shouldering/firing weapons from multiple positions - be capable of being turned on/off by either hand (as applicable) - be resistant to heat and flash flame - remain in place during rigorous activity 

PHASE I: During Phase I, the contractor shall research and develop innovative approaches to providing verbal (face to face) communication ability and hearing protection while operating in noise environments, based on the stated objectives and description for this effort. An analysis of alternatives shall be conducted, with consideration given to tradeoffs associated with degree of protection, the ability to communicate, situational awareness, size, weight, fit/comfort, potential for negative impacts on physical or cognitive performance, power needs, operating time, cost, manufacturability, and other military relevant characteristics. A conceptual design shall be developed and representative breadboard(s) fabricated to demonstrate proof of principal. Any performance implications that will adversely affect auditory perception, cognitive load, and/or natural awareness of one’s surroundings shall be addressed and solutions identified. The design shall be characterized/verified by means such as modeling and simulation, and breadboard testing. Overall, a sound engineering approach to design and fabrication, with consideration given to operational needs, shall be demonstrated. Phase I deliverables shall include monthly reports, end of Phase report, conceptual drawings/designs, early schematics, and a representative working breadboard design to demonstrate the concept. Ability to meet the stated objectives shall be supported with sound reasoning and substantiating evidence. Target weight of the system is 15 ounces or less, batteries included (with an ultimate goal of 8 ounces or less). Rechargeable solutions are preferred, with an operating time of 72 hours or more before having to be recharged (with an ultimate goal of 216 hours or greater). Size shall be such that 95% of the user population is accommodated, while being compatible with other head borne equipment (such as helmets), and without interfering with ability to sight and accurately fire weapons. End item cost shall be considered early on. Target cost is $500 or less. Target performance for verbal communication is 95% Modified Rhyme Test (MRT) score in representative military noise environments. Target performance for continuous noise is to reduce unwanted sound signals (such as vehicle noise) by 20 dB or more. Target performance for impulse noise is to reduce impulse noise levels of up to 170 dB(P) down to 135 dB or less. 

PHASE II: During Phase II, the contractor shall address in detail the technical design and engineering challenges associated with the approach taken in Phase I, and optimize the design to maximize hearing protection while simultaneously preserving the ability to effectively hear/communicate/identify/localize sounds outside of that produced by any given noise source. Based on the objectives and description provided, key characteristics to design performance will be identified and documented. Throughout the design process, designs shall be monitored for potential negative impacts on user performance or cognitive load, such as masking of sounds due to self-noise inherent to the design (electronic “hiss”), distracting sounds (such as partially filtered noise), and the design adjusted to mitigate any negative effects. Care shall also be taken to ensure designs will be practical for use in military environments, and be designed with future manufacturability and cost in mind. Prototypes shall be fabricated and tested for key performance characteristics and user acceptance. Phase II deliverables shall include monthly reports, end of Phase report, developmental drawings, schematics, draft performance requirements, source code and object code, supporting test reports (to include equipment and methodology), and fifteen (15) working prototypes. Prototypes shall be designed and/or packaged to accommodate different sized wearers to ensure proper fit. Sizing/fit instructions, as well as use and care instructions, shall be included with each prototype. If multiple sizes are provided, a tariff shall be provided. The ability to provide safe levels of noise protection while allowing for face to face verbal communication shall be validated through laboratory testing. 

PHASE III: The initial use of this technology will be for military applications, particularly those where hearing must be protected from noise, and where communication and situational awareness are also critical. A wide range of commercial applications also exist. The technology is applicable for improved safety and communication between employees at manufacturing plants when working in the presence of loud machinery. It is also applicable to commercial and residential landscaping and construction to provide protection from harmful noise while maintaining the ability to communicate with others. Law enforcement, commercial shipyard workers, motorcyclists, and others that may be exposed to loud noise, would also benefit. 

REFERENCES: 

1: DoDI 6055.12, "Hearing Conservation Program (HCP)", Dec 2010 and Change 1, 10/25/2017 http://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodi/605512p.pdf?ver=2017-10-25-110159-777

2:  Summary of "Methods for the measurement of the real-ear attenuation of hearing protectors"

3:  https://wwwn.cdc.gov/PPEInfo/Standards/Info/ANSI/ASAS1262016

4:  Summary of "Methods for the Measurement of Insertion Loss of Hearing Protection Devices in Continuous or Impulsive Noise Using Microphone-in-Real-Ear or Acoustic Test Fixture Procedures"

5:  https://wwwn.cdc.gov/PPEInfo/Standards/Info/ANSI/ASAS12422010

6:  Summary of ""Methods of Estimating Effective A-Weighted Sound Pressure Levels When Hearing Protectors are Worn"

7:  " https://wwwn.cdc.gov/PPEInfo/Standards/Info/ANSI/ASAS12682007

8:  TG 250, Readiness thru Hearing Conservation (Soldier's Guide)

9:  https://phc.amedd.army.mil/PHC%20Resource%20Library/TG250.pdf

10:  MIL-STD-1474E, Department of Defense Design Criteria Standard Noise Limits, 15 April 2015

11:  http://www.arl.army.mil/www/pages/343/MIL-STD-1474E-Final-15Apr2015.pdf

12:  https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3151.pdf

KEYWORDS: Hearing, Noise, Protection, Stead-State, Impulse, Localization, Situational Awareness 

CONTACT(S): 

Ms. Michelle Markey 

(508) 233-5471 

michelle.markey@us.army.mil 

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