User Tools


cts
  • hearing protection
  • mass customization
  • image processing
  • Java
  • computed tomography
  • human subject research
  • independent review board (IRB) protocols

Non-Invasive Ear Scanning

Toward reducing noise induced hearing loss, ATI developed an easier way to measure ears for fitting high performance custom earplugs. Our system uses low-dose VCT (volume computed tomography) scanners and special software to quickly and accurately map the ears without touching them.

Non-Invasive Ear Scanning, overview image from 2011 TAP quad chart


Background

Noise induced hearing loss is a problem throughout the military and heavy industry. Hearing loss reduces quality of life for everyone affected. For workers and warfighters, reduced hearing function can also contribute to reduced mission effectiveness.

Personnel who work in loud noise should wear protective equipment to reduce their risk of ear damage. Earplugs are a common form of protective equipment. Earplugs that are custom fitted to an individual's ears can provide significant protection; however, like measurements for clothing, people have to be measured for custom earplugs.

The standard way to measure ears is to take ear impressions. A trained clinician will fill the ear canals with liquid rubber and then wait for the rubber to cure into a solid. The rubber solids that the clinician removes from the ears are called impressions and they show the inside shape of the ears. Custom earplugs are made to follow those inside shapes.

There are several problems with impressions. First, getting them can be uncomfortable. They are also fraught with variability due to differences in technique across clinicians. Variability can lead to comfort and performance problems in the resulting products. Since taking impressions is a skill, their availability is limited to that of skilled clinicians. The process also requires at least 15 minutes of a client's time, if everything goes smoothly. Even once ear impressions are in hand, they still have to be shipped and processed before being turned into earplugs.

To streamline fielding of custom earplugs Adaptive Technologies, Inc. (ATI) developed an ear measurement system that uses low-dose VCT scans and custom image processing software to map the inside shapes of ears, virtually. The virtual models can be built into custom earplugs, while VCT scanning is comfortable and non-invasive. The equipment is easy to use and produces consistent results across operators. Operators require minimal training so staffing availability is of less concern. Scan times are typically less than 20 seconds so clients get back to work quickly. Finally, since all data is digital it can be transmitted electronically to avoid costs and shipping delays.

This system significantly lowers the barriers to custom earplug deployment. Accordingly, as high performance protectors become easier to get it is expected that more people will wear them and enjoy the benefits of sustained hearing health.

More: Narrative Brief (PDF), link (2013-08-18)


Software

Although new to measuring ears, low-dose VCT scanners have been used by dentists for years. The core of the ear measurement system is our software for extracting ear shapes from standard scanner output. These image processing routines isolate ear features in each slice of a DICOM stack and then reassemble them into a 3D mesh model. The application is written in Java and builds off of the powerful and open source ImageJ.
Link to ImageJ website


Patent

US 8,285,408 - System and method for designing an ear insert device

A method for designing an ear insert device using anatomical information relating to the ear. A user record is that includes anatomical information relating to an ear of a user is received. The anatomical information comprises at least one sub-dermal feature of an ear canal. The user record is processed to obtain an ear insert device design record. The ear insert device design record comprises a three dimensional representation of a bounding surface shape having surface boundaries that substantially conform to surface boundaries of the ear canal and the at least one sub-dermal feature of the ear canal. An ear insert device may be produced using the ear insert design record.

Patent US8285408 System and method for designing an ear insert device


New Service

This technology has been successfully fielded onsite for a major defense customer. Ear scanning was offered as an alternative to the more invasive physical impressions as part of a service to fit employees with custom hearing protector earplugs.

Flyer introducing ear scanning service for hearing aids

Flyers: Hearing Aids link, Earplugs link
Info: Hearing Aids link, Earplugs link
(links as of 2013-09-29)


Press

Contracts

Phase I

  • Initial solicitation came out in April 2008 entitled “Digital Method for Improved Custom Hearing Protection Equipment”, Navy Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) 2008.2 - Topic N08-153
  • Submitted competitive Phase I proposal in June 2008
  • Received funding in September 2008
  • Submitted a Phase II proposal in May 2009
OBJECTIVE: Develop an accurate, efficient, robust capability to digitally capture ear canal geometries and to share, archive, access, and manipulate those digital databases to provide custom earplug designs with a minimized logistical burden… link (2013-08-18)

Principal Investigator:
Contract:
Amount:
Duration:
Competition:
Reference:

Ean Schiller
SBIR N68335-08-C-0484
$79,764
6 months, 2008-09-23 thru 2009-03-23
awards issued to 6 competing companies
link (2013-07-30)

Phase I Option

  • Phase I success led to an Option to continue the work

Principal Investigator:
Amount:
Duration:
Reference:

Ean Schiller
$69,908
6 months, 2009-05-20 thru 2009-11-20
link (2013-08-18)

Phase II

  • Phase I success led to further down-selection and acceptance of our Phase II proposal

Principal Investigator:
Contract:
Amount:
Duration:
Competition:
Reference:

Ean Schiller
SBIR N68335-10-C-0011
$749,315
2 years, 2010-03-26 thru 2012-03-26
awards issued to 4 competing companies
link (2013-07-30)

The Navy Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is offered annually to current Phase II SBIR and STTR awardees. The TAP spans an 11 month period and begins with a Kick-Off meeting held in July of each year and culminates with the Navy Opportunity Forum® in June… link (2013-08-18)

Image of quad chart for 2011 Navy Opportunity Forum

Image of TAP completion certificate from June 2011

Phase II Option

  • Phase II was further extended with an Option

Principal Investigator:
Amount:
Duration:
Reference:

Ean Schiller
$244,424
1 year, 2012-04-04 thru 2013-04-04
link (2013-08-18)

Phase III

  • Success extracting 3D models from CT scans led to a follow-on effort to develop software for collecting consistent anthropometric measurements from digitized ear canal shapes
Phase III commercialization work derives from, extends, or logically concludes efforts performed under prior SBIR/STTR funding agreements. Small businesses are expected to obtain additional funds from the private sector, and/or non-SBIR/non-STTR government sources to develop Phase II prototypes into viable products for sale in the marketplace… link (2013-08-18)

Principal Investigator:
Contract:
Amount:
Duration:
Competition:
Reference:

Ean Schiller
Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) N68335-12-G-0051 Delivery Order 1
$149,980
15 months, 2012-08-24 thru 2013-11-24
sole source
Dawnbreaker Transitions, Volume 10, Issue 2, 2013
link (2013-08-18), PDF

Image of page 7 from Dawnbreaker publication listing award amounts