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Washington, Nov. 24 : Scientists have made a potential breakthrough in solving a 50-year-old problem in hearing technology: how to help the hearing-impaired understand speech in the midst of background noise.


Several patents are pending on the technology, and the researchers are working with leading hearing aid manufacturer Starkey, as well as others around the world to develop the technology.

Eric Healy, professor of speech and hearing science and director of Ohio State's Speech Psychoacoustics Laboratory said that the desire to understand one voice in roomful of chatter has been dubbed the "cocktail party problem."

Key to the technology is a computer algorithm developed by DeLiang "Leon" Wang, professor of computer science and engineering, and his team. It quickly analyzes speech and removes most of the background noise.

Wang said that for 50 years, researchers have tried to pull out the speech from the background noise, asserting that hasn't worked, so they decided to try a very different approach: classify the noisy speech and retain only the parts where speech dominates the noise.

In initial tests, Healy and doctoral student Sarah Yoho removed twelve hearing-impaired volunteers' hearing aids, then played recordings of speech obscured by background noise over headphones.

They asked the participants to repeat the words they heard. Then they re-performed the same test, after processing the recordings with the algorithm to remove background noise.

They tested the algorithm's effectiveness against "stationary noise"‚Euro"a constant noise like the hum of an air conditioner‚Euro"and then with the babble of other voices in the background.

The algorithm was particularly affective against background babble, improving hearing-impaired people's comprehension from 25 percent to close to 85 percent on average. Against stationary noise, the algorithm improved comprehension from an average of 35 percent to 85 percent.

The study has been published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

--ANI (Posted on 24-11-2013)

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