SBIR Phase II: New Technology for Coupling Sound to the Ear in Communications Devices

Award Information
National Science Foundation
Award Year:
Phase II
Agency Tracking Number:
Solicitation Year:
Solicitation Topic Code:
Solicitation Number:
Small Business Information
1257 Whitehall, Longmont, CO, 80504-2668
Hubzone Owned:
Minority Owned:
Woman Owned:
Principal Investigator:
Stephen Ambrose
(303) 748-4621
Business Contact:
Stephen Ambrose
(303) 748-4621
Research Institution:

This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project focuses on coupling sound to the human ear for communications devices (MP3, Bluetooth, hearing aids, headsets, earbuds) with unprecedented comfort, safety and audio quality. A chip-like device, the diaphonic valve, for harvesting energy from audio communications for the purpose of inflating a coupling device (balloon) in the user's ear has been demonstrated. This inflatable ear coupling mitigates excessive sound pressure levels that often occur within-ear listening devices, such as ear-buds and hearing aids, and which are a cause of audio fatigue and potential hearing damage. Diaphonic valve design has been dramatically improved making it smaller and more effective at pumping air. In this project, production of the critical diaphonic valve-chip component will be increased to a small scale manufacturing level. Additionally, the pressure and power utilization management hardware and algorithms to integrate the diaphonic valve and inflatable ear coupling (bubble) into commercial headsets, and hearing aids will be developed. Finally, work will be done on a non-inflatable ear couple technology, discovered during Phase I of this project, which also improves audio quality and hearing safety. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project centers on revolutionary new person-to-audio couplings, based on an inflatable ear-piece, with applications in consumer audio, Bluetooth headsets, hearing aids, ear-buds, and headsets for professional communications (pilots, law enforcement, military, etc.). This technology has the potential to improve peoples lives by reducing listener fatigue and hearing damage in the population using in-ear devices, as well as making hearing aids more comfortable and better sounding for people who already have hearing loss. Published results from Phase I have shown how existing ear coupling approaches can produce dangerous sound pressures in the ear canal and how the technologies of this project allow ear couplings that alleviate this problem. The first embodiment of this new technology to the market will be a basic version applied to consumer headsets (ear-buds). From there, more complex applications, such as hearing aids, will be addressed. The success of this project will create engineering and business sector jobs as well as manufacturing jobs. The project also includes funding for a high school student or college undergraduate to participate in the research and development activities.

* information listed above is at the time of submission.

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