Tayside and Central Scotland

University team developing lip-reading hearing aid

Prof Hussain Image copyright Stirling University
Image caption Prof Hussain and his team are developing a prototype "next generation" hearing aid

A hearing aid equipped with a camera and lip-reading software is being developed by researchers at the University of Stirling.

The device is designed to help users in noisy environments, and can switch between audio and visual cues.

A multi-disciplinary team of scientists and clinicians has been awarded almost £500,000 to develop the technology.

They said it had the potential to "significantly improve" the lives of millions of people with hearing loss.

More than 10m people in the UK suffer from some form of hearing loss, with the number estimated to rise to 14.5m by 2031.

The team led by Prof Amir Hussain has been working on a prototype "next generation" hearing aid, and the funding from the UK government's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will allow dedicated work to take place over the next three years.

'Exciting potential'

Prof Hussain said: "This exciting world-first project has the potential to significantly improve the lives of millions of people who have hearing difficulties.

"Existing commercial hearing aids are capable of working on an audio-only basis, but the next-generation audio-visual model we want to develop will intelligently track the target speaker's face for visual cues, like lip reading. These will further enhance the audio sounds that are picked up and amplified by conventional hearing aids.

"The 360-degree approach to our software design is expected to open up more everyday environments to device users, enabling them to confidently communicate in noisier settings with a reduced listening effort."

The hearing aid's camera could be mounted inside a pair of glasses, a necklace or even an earring.

Prof Hussain and his team will collaborate with colleagues in the university's psychology department, a team at the University of Sheffield, international hearing aid manufacturer Phonak, and the Institute of Hearing Research.

The institute's Dr William Whitmer said: "We are excited about the potential ability for this new technology, which takes advantage of the similar information presented to the eyes and ears in noisy conversation, to aid listening in those difficult situations, a consistent issue for those affected by hearing loss."

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