American researchers have developed a prototype cochlear implant which would be entirely internal, with no visible hardware on the outside of the head.
The advance is a result of collaboration between MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories and teams from Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
Current cochlear implant technology requires an external transmitter, which is made up of a magnetic coil, cable, microphone and power source. These are available in a variety of colours and designs, but are always on the outside of the head, connected to the internal device via a magnet.
The new design has no need for an external microphone, as the device uses the naturally occurring ‘microphone’ of the inner ear; the ossicles. The ossicles are small bones inside the ear which vibrate when sound is present. The device would sense these vibrations and change them into electrical signals, which the cochlear implant can process as sound.
The main breakthrough towards fully-internal implants came with the development of a low-power processing chip, which can be recharged wirelessly. It would be able to run for approximately eight hours after being charged. The team have also developed a prototype charger which runs from mobile phones, and recharges the implant processor in two minutes.
One of the team said; “The idea with this design is that you could use a phone, with an adapter, to charge the cochlear implant, so you don’t have to be plugged in. Or you could imagine a smart pillow, so you charge overnight, and the next day, it just functions.”
Another key development was reducing how much power the device needed to function, so that there would be no need for the large external batteries. The new design requires 20-30% less power than current cochlear implants.
If the fully-internal CI becomes a reality, it could throw up new issues for deaf people. Cochlear implants have been the source of intense debate within the deaf community since they were introduced.
By Emily Howlett
Check out what Limping Chicken’s supporters provide:
- Phonak: innovative technology and products in hearing acoustics.
- Bellman: hearing loss solutions
- Ai-Live: Live captions and transcripts.
- Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support.
- Sign Video: Instant sign language support online
- 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services.
- Signworld: online BSL learning and teaching materials.
- SDHH: Deaf television programmes online.
- Sign Solutions:, language and learning.
- Lexicon Signstream: BSL interpreting and communication services.
- Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting.
- Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children.
- RAD: financial advice for Deaf people.
- STAGETEXT: theatre captioning.
- Krazy Kat: visual theatre with BSL.
- SignHealth: healthcare support for Deaf people.
- Deafinitely Theatre: theatre from a Deaf perspective.
- Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support.
- Sign Language Days: Sign language learning in schools
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
The site exists thanks to our supporters. Check them out below:
- Signature: Leading awarding body for BSL qualifications
- Ai-Media: Remote captioning. Find out the benefits of live captioning at university!
- Bellman & Symfon: home alerting solutions
- Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support
- BSL Zone: TV programmes in BSL for the Deaf community
- Stellar Communications: Speech-to-Text services
- Appa: Communication services for Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people
- SignLive: Online video interpreting for Deaf people
- SignVideo: Instant BSL video interpreting online
- 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services
- Eyewitness Media: TV and film from a Deaf perspective
- The National Theatre: Captioned and BSL accessible theatre in London
- Doncaster School for the Deaf: education for Deaf children
- Signworld: Learn BSL online!
- Helen Foulkes Translations: BSL translations
- RAD Tax Advice: Tax and Tax Credit info for Deaf people
- Performance Interpreting: BSL interpreting at concerts
- National Deaf Children's Society: The leading charity for deaf children
- Signed Culture: Advocating for BSL access to arts and culture
- SignHealth: healthcare charity for Deaf people
- CJ Interpreting: communication support in BSL
- British Society for Mental Health and Deafness: Promoting positive mental health for deaf people
- Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting
- BSLcourses.co.uk: Provider of online BSL courses
- Association of Notetaking Professionals: The professional body representing Electronic and Manual Notetakers
- Sign Solutions: communication support, training and translation
- InterpretersLive: On demand BSL video interpretation
- Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children
- Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support
- Hearing Choices: Australian hearing aid specialists
- Elmfield School, Bristol: Inclusive education for Deaf pupils
- deafPLUS: BSL advice helpline
- Exeter Deaf Academy: education for Deaf children
- Royal Shakespeare Company: Captioned and BSL interpreted performances (see dates here)
- Royal School for the Deaf, Derby: Residential education for deaf children