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Revolutionary technology set to give a voice to those with severe disabilities

Scale-Up Programme member Earswitch Ltd, alongside the University of Bath, has been awarded an NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) Connect grant to develop a prototype of its revolutionary communication tool for people with severe communication difficulties and disabilities.

The Earswitch technology is a sensor within an earpiece that detects intentional movement of the eardrum, following contraction of the ‘tensor tympani’ muscle. Proof-of-concept has successfully demonstrated that it can be used to communicate by typing on a virtual keyboard. This represents the development of an entirely new, non-invasive human-computer-interface with wide ranging health applications.

With this i4i Connect grant funding, the company in partnership with the University of Bath and support from the Motor Neurone Disease Association, will develop the prototype into a communication tool for people with advanced motor neurone disease.

The Scale-Up team provided a package of support to Earswitch Ltd to develop the successful grant application including bid writing, support to prepare a business case, to design the project and to consider commercial aspects.

Dr Nick Gompertz, Founder & Director, Earswitch Ltd: “As a GP I’ve witnessed first-hand the importance of maintaining communication for people with severe neurological disabilities who can’t speak or operate keyboards. Evidence suggests that within Motor Neurone Disease the use of the tensor tympani muscle within the ear remains functional even after many other movements are lost. There are no other interfaces which use this movement, so this is completely unique and will provide a vital communication tool for those even with the most severe difficulties. The support from the Scale-Up team has been amazing – they helped us to craft a thorough and professional bid and focused on the commercial case for developing this technology.”

The University of Bath team led by Dr Dario Cazzola, Senior Lecturer in Health, will be key contributors to this i4i funded project. He will lead on both user surveys and the incorporation of participant input in engineering design to maximise potential health benefit.

Beyond the health market, the opportunities and applications are far wider. Initial scoping work has demonstrated potential markets across hearing aids, smart earphones, smart phones, communications (military/ emergency/ aerospace and civilian), eye-tracking and heads-up displays, gaming/VR/AR, PC and other graphical user interfaces with new opportunities emerging regularly.

As part of the research a large survey is being conducted to establish a percentage of the general population who have the ability to create a ‘rumble’ sound using a muscle inside the ear: https://bathreg.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/earswitch-h-v13-final

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