Researchers have developed a new, low-power signal-processing chip that could lead to a cochlear implant that requires no external hardware and could be wirelessly recharged.
As they currently stand, cochlear implants require that a disc-shaped transmitter about an 2,5 cm in diameter be affixed to the skull, with a wire snaking down to a joint microphone and power source that looks like an oversized hearing aid around the patient’s ear.
The new cochlear implants would use the natural microphone of the middle ear – which is almost always intact in cochlear-implant patients – rather than a skull-mounted sensor.
The researchers at MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratory (MTL), together with physicians from Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI), will describe their chip in a paper they’re presenting this week at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference.
The paper’s lead author Marcus Yip and his colleagues will also exhibit a prototype charger that plugs into an ordinary cellphone and can recharge the signal-processing chip in roughly two minutes.
“The idea with this design is that you could use a phone, with an adaptor, to charge the cochlear implant, so you don’t have to be plugged in,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, the Joseph F and Nancy P Keithley Professor of Electrical Engineering and corresponding author on the new paper. “Or you could imagine a smart pillow, so you charge overnight, and the next day, it just functions.