Researchers from The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have developed an intelligent hearing aid which not only allows users to adjust the clarity of selected sound sources, but is also much more affordable at just one tenth the price of similar products in the market.
Developed by Prof Richard So from the Department of Industrial Engineering and Logistics Management and his student Calvin Zhang, fresh graduate of MPhil Program in Technology Leadership and Entrepreneurship (TLE), the novel audio technology not only promises to improve life for the elderly and the hearing-impaired, but will also enhance the audio quality of hearing protection equipment and communication devices such as mobile phones and walkie-talkies, as well as the accuracy of voice recognition devices.
Prof So said the new hearing aid combines innovative technology with new sales model, so not only it meets market demand, but it also comes in affordable prices. “Hearing impairment is a common problem among the elderly, but many of them are deterred from using hearing-aid devices due to money concern and their quality,” Prof So said. “We hope our product can help improve the well-being of people who are in need of such hearing-aid devices.”
The new technology uses a bio-inspired filtering and pattern recognition system to separate background noise from target audio signals. Users can adjust the volume of the target signals, hence significantly enhancing performance of the hearing aid. The technology is at the frontier of international level. The team has already filed patents.
Meanwhile, Incus Company Ltd – the start-up founded by Prof So’s team to commercialize the hearing aid, also created a mobile app that offers potential customers a chance to try the product. The app first conducts accredited hearing tests on users, then based on those results, it generates a customized trial for the user, who can place order for the product only if he is satisfied with the trial outcome. Such sales model resulted in a significant price reduction that reaches up to 90 per cent of that of existing products.
The team has garnered several awards in different entrepreneurship competitions across Greater China with their innovative audio technology, that include top prizes in the Innovation in the Cross-Strait, HK and Macau Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition, as well as the “New World Cup” First Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Youth Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition in the start-up category.
The School of Engineering has been strengthening its entrepreneurship education. It launched the MPhil Program in TLE in fall 2014 and a minor undergraduate program in entrepreneurship with the School of Business and Management in spring the same year. The school’s students, faculty and alumni set up a great number of start-ups over the years, including DJI, the world’s first multibillion drone empire founded by Electronic and Computer Engineering alumnus Frank Wang, who was named by Forbes magazine as one of the Top 10 Innovators in China in 2014.