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IEEE Award for Innovative Hearing Aid Research

Masdar Institute PhD student Wala Saadeh won two awards at the International Symposium on Circuits and Systems (ISCAS) 2015 for her innovative research that looks to improve battery life in hearing aids, beating out the other one thousand papers submitted at the IEEE Circuits and Society’s flagship conference, held in Portugal. Saadeh’s winning paper  demonstrates Masdar Institute’s strong research capabilities in the field of microsystems engineering.

“Hearing loss is a major public health issue that affects more than 360 million people worldwide. I am hoping that my research will lead to the development of hearing aids that offer more natural hearing for individuals suffering from hearing loss by creating advanced binaural hearing aids that have greater data capacities than Bluetooth but with reduced power demand,” Saadeh said.

Saadeh won for the Best Paper in the Biomedical Track and Best Paper Runner-Up. Her work explores how to improve the communication method in binaural hearing aids – a type of hearing aid that lets two hearing aids communicate to one another by sharing information through a wireless data stream – by developing energy-efficient wireless transceivers that leverage the human body as a communication medium.

“Conventional wireless communication methods, such as Bluetooth and ZigBee, are extremely inefficient in providing connectivity between body-worn sensors like hearing aids. This is due to the fact that the human body absorbs the majority of radio frequency signals these wireless communication devices transmit, resulting in significant weakening of the signal,” said Dr. Jerald Yoo, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Dr. Yoo is Saadeh’s research advisor and co-author of the winning paper.  

To overcome the weak signal caused by the human body’s tendency to absorb radio frequency signals, Saadeh and Dr. Yoo investigated ways to leverage the body as a natural coupling medium to enhance the wireless communication between the hearing aids.

Body coupled communication (BCC) uses the body itself as a channel to form a body area network (BAN), much like the personal area network (PAN) that Bluetooth systems form to communicate with each other. In their binaural hearing aid system, the two hearing aids form a network with each other and the human body using BCC as an alternative wireless communication technology.

“Instead of the human body acting as a blockage, as it does with radio frequency communication on body, in BCC the human body actually aids the communication,” Saadeh explained.

Because signals are less attenuated in BCC compared to radio frequency, a faster, more efficient transmission between the two hearing aids becomes possible.

The team invented and developed a pioneering technology, called Hybrid-Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (H-OFDM), which overcomes the issue of the high Peak-to-Average Power Ratio (PAPR) that conventional OFDM has. This superior technology, combined with BCC, creates a much more energy-efficient transceiver that could even be powered by solar energy in the future, according to Saadeh.

“Because the power needed to operate the transceivers is significantly reduced using BCC, solar energy harvesting devices may be able to power them,” Saadeh said. “These hearing aids will be more affordable and energy-efficient and energy efficiency is a major goal of the Masdar Institute.”

“I would like to congratulate Wala and Prof. Yoo for these outstanding achievements and thank them for all the hard, creative work that has led to such a rewarding outcome,” said Dr. Ibrahim (Abe) M. Elfadel, head of the Masdar Institute Center for Microsystems who was present at the ISCAS award ceremony. “I was there witnessing first hand the research at the Masdar Institute getting top recognition in a top scientific venue. It was both a very proud moment and a stake in the ground for all our faculty and students,” added Dr. Elfadel.

Saadeh’s research has been conducted under the umbrella of the Abu Dhabi – SRC Center of Excellence on Energy-Efficient Electronic Systems (ACE4S) and is one of many Masdar Institute research projects under way at the Institute Center for Microsystems (iMicro), which are generating valuable technology-based innovations in the health sector – a priority sector targeted by the UAE’s National Innovation Strategy.

 

Erica Solomon
News and Features Writer
16 November 2015

 

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