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Contact Lenses for the Ear - Invisibly providing natural hearing experience for Europe's 52 million hearing-impaired people

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Hearing Contacts (Contact Lenses for the Ear - Invisibly providing natural hearing experience for Europe's 52 million hearing-impaired people)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2020-02-29

Vibrosonic is a young high-tech company in medical industry, based in Mannheim (Germany), with currently 17 employees. Our vision is to improve the life quality of 52mn. Europeans who self-reportedly experience hearing loss.

More than 45 million of them refuse to make use of hearing aids and remain untreated despite the physical, mental and social consequences. Main reason for this is the visibility of hearing aid devices and the perceived social stigmatisation. And even the vast majority of those wearing hearing aids are unsatisfied with current state-of-the-art technology. They lament that they are not able to hear naturally. This means, that they have difficulties in locating the origin of noises (as they hear noises only through the integrated speakers of current hearing aids which is particularly dangerous in traffic), identifying voices in groups of people or hearing sound distortedly. In addition, wearing comfort is low: hearing aids have to be removed regularly for charging, cleaning or while showering or sleeping, and they often cause ear pressure, itching, pressure marks and sore points.

Therefore, we invented and developed the world’s first contact lens for the ear based on microsystem technology and the piezoelectric principle – the Vibrosonic Hearing Contacts. In contrast to all other hearing aids, our system is so small that it can be directly placed on the eardrum instead of outside the ear. And in contrast to all other hearing aids, our system does not use speakers to transport sound via the air column in the ear canal: the Hearing Contacts stimulate the eardrum directly by bending and contracting under the influence of electric impulses. This enables the hearing-impaired person to hear naturally like not impaired persons.

The system targets at Europe’s huge EUR 104bn. market of people with minor and modest hearing loss who are either unsatisfied with current state of the art or who doesn’t make use of current hearing aids due to the shortcomings described. The Vibrosonic Hearing Contacts are important for our society by generating larger acceptance of hearing aids, improving life quality of hearing-impaired person and increasing their safety in public (e.g. in traffic) which is the overall project objective.
During the project, the Hearing Contacts prototypes were successfully improved to a market-ready system. Additional modules have been developed and miniaturised. The system have been also optimized against the background of industrial producibility. In this context, the company has been successfully up-scaled to meet the expected business case. Moreover, vibrosonic was successfully certified as medical device developer and built up important partnerships for sales and market introduction of the innovative Hearing Contacts. In addition, the project as well as the Hearing Contacts have been communicated to a large number of stakeholders and customer groups generating a huge awareness and interest.
State of the art is represented by conventional behind-the-ear hearing systems (BTE) and in-the-ear (ITE) hearing systems.

Behind-the-ear hearing systems are the most commonly used hearing aids. They consist of one or more microphones, an amplifier/chip and a speaker. These components are positioned together with a battery and a chip within a separate module behind the ear. Sound is recorded by the microphone(s) and processed by the chip. The chip amplifies the sound waves differently for different frequencies according to the individual hearing impairment of the patient. These amplified sound waves are emitted by a speaker and transported via a sonic tube to an ear-matching module. The ear-matching module takes care that the sound waves are coupled correctly into the ear canal. In some cases, this module is individually adapted to the shape of the patient’s ear.

Current “in”-the-ear hearing systems are not really placed within the ear canal but close to the ear canal at the outer ear. All components (microphones, amplifier/chip, speaker and battery) are positioned within one single ear-matching-module. Therefore, no sonic tube is needed for transporting sound from speakers to the auditory canal. In some cases, ITE hearing systems are individually adapted to the shape of the patient’s ear and are available in different colours (skin like or transparent).

The innovative Hearing Contacts overcome all the shortcomings and disadvantages the current state of the art systems have. This refers to the limited frequency range of state of the art and related aspects like difficulties in locating origin of noises, like identifying voices in groups of people and like hearing sound distortedly, to their visibility causing less acceptance due to fear of social stigmatization, to less wearing comfort and to the experience of ear pressure, itching, pressure marks and sore points. The societal impact mainly lies in the life quality improvement for about 52mn Europeans simultaneously increasing their safety.
Hearing Contacts
Placement of the Hearing Contacts