IEEE Fellows Develop Devices to Lend a Helping Hand

Their technology helps people see, hear, and live longer

4 November 2011

Four IEEE Fellows from the class of 2011 have upheld IEEE’s mission—to advance technology for the benefit of humanity—by developing four new devices, three that help people see and hear, and another that helps surgeons repair heart defects.

fell_lovell Photo: IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society

People blinded by certain eye conditions might soon regain some sight, thanks in part to Nigel Hamilton Lovell. The electrical engineering professor at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, was elevated to Fellow this year for “contributions to medical device technologies including telehealth systems and visual prostheses.”

Lovell and colleagues at his university teamed up with Bionic Vision Australia (BVA), a national research group working on technology for restoring sight to people with damaged retinas. Lowell’s device, a wide-view neurostimulator, consists of a microchip implanted in the retina that receives signals wirelessly from a tiny camera attached to a pair of glasses worn by the visually impaired person.

Lowell heads BVA’s Electrical Stimulation Strategy team, which is working to develop a safe way to attach electrodes to the microchip in the retina to stimulate remaining healthy cells there. The electrical impulses are passed from the microchip to the optic nerve and then to the vision-processing centers of the brain, where they are interpreted as an image.

Researchers expect a person with the device to see objects as black-and-white pixels. The view will be far from crystal clear, they say, but the wearer will be able to determine light from dark and detect still and moving objects. The team plans to begin testing the prototype in 2013 on people with retina problems before moving on to develop the technology for those who face other vision hurdles.

fell_martin Photo: AUDIS

Rainer Martin is developing technology to restore another sense: hearing. He was cited for “contributions to speech enhancement for mobile communications and hearing aids.”

Martin is a professor of information technology and communication acoustics and head of the digital signal processing in audiology (AUDIS) group at Ruhr-Universität, in Bochum, Germany. He and his team developed a hearing aid that communicates with a handheld remote control. The system is for elderly people who often find it difficult to manipulate the small buttons used in hearing aids. Sounds picked up by the aid are transmitted wirelessly to the remote, which is about the size of a TV remote control. The user can then adjust the device’s volume and other settings. There’s an alert when the battery in the hearing aid is low.

Martin’s group also is working on developing algorithms for noise reduction, echo cancellation, and speech recognition to improve current hearing aids.

fell_zeng Photo: University of California

Fan-Geng Zeng also is trying to improve technology for the hearing impaired. His research focuses on cochlear implants, whose electrodes stimulate the auditory nerve to restore some hearing in the deaf. The director of the Hearing and Speech Laboratory at the University of California, Irvine, was promoted to Fellow for “contributions to auditory prostheses.”

Zeng’s team studies the hearing process and the performance of people with normal hearing and compares them to those with cochlear implants. The team has found that people with implants can easily recognize speech in a quiet room; in a noisier environment, however, they find it difficult to distinguish speech from background noise. That is because pitch and dynamic acoustic cues are not adequately encoded in today’s cochlear implants, Zeng says.

The team is working to determine how pitch and volume as well as complex sounds such as speech and music are encoded in the brain’s central auditory systems. According to Zeng, if the type of coding found in the brain can be included in cochlear implants, users will find it easier to hold a conversation in a crowded room.

fell_dupont Photo: Boston University

Pierre E. Dupont is developing surgical instruments and technology to help people with a congenital heart defect.

Dupont is chief of pediatric cardiac bioengineering at Children’s Hospital Boston and director of the Biorobotics Research Group at Boston University. He was elevated to Fellow for “contributions to modeling and control of frictional contact in robotics.”

His team at the university develops robotic surgical instruments and imaging technology to correct congenital heart defects, which are among the most common birth defects.

The group has developed a robotic tool, controlled by a surgeon using a joystick, that can snake its way through the vasculature system. Researchers are also designing imaging systems that use 3-D ultrasound to help surgeons better navigate the instruments through the interior of the heart and see the tools more clearly as they repair the defect. Their goal is to replace open-heart surgery with minimally invasive surgery.

This year 321 senior IEEE members were elevated to the status of IEEE Fellow. In any given year, the rules permit no more than one tenth of one percent of IEEE’s voting members to qualify for such elevation. For the entire list of new IEEE Fellows, and information on nominating a colleague, read “Introducing the 2011 Fellows [The Institute, March].

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