Selective hearing device could screen out Happy Hour ‘bores’

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listening device for grey nomads
The system analyses a person’s brainwaves to determine the direction their hearing is focussed. PIC: Andreus / Depositphotos

While ‘open road myth’ suggests that Happy Hours are the nightly highlight of all grey nomad Big Laps … the reality can be rather different.

Sadly, it’s time to introduce the bane of campfire socials everywhere … the know-it-all bore! No matter how many interesting, respectful, like-minded travellers gather under the stars with a glass of something cold, what should have been a memorable evening is all too often ‘hijacked’ by the loudest voice with the least to say.

Other than ‘just putting up with it’, not attending the event at all, or having some sort of unlikely confrontation, the options for the sociable traveller have been pretty limited … until now!

Today’s hearing aids are often rendered unusable in big gatherings by the ‘cocktail party’ effect, wherein they can’t amplify one person’s voice without also boosting the voices of everyone else in the room.

However, the boffins at Belgium’s KU Leuven university have come up with a device that could potentially be placed in an ear to enable you to listen those you are interested in listening to and, crucially, ‘zone out’ those you’re not.

There are already artificial intelligence-based systems that are able to determine which of several voices someone is listening to. They do so by classifying each voice as a unique sound signal and identifying when one of those signals causes an increase in certain brainwaves.

The Belgian scientists have taken things one step further by developing a new brainwave-reading AI system that could help focus the listening device’s attention where it’s most needed.

“We trained our system to determine whether someone is listening to a speaker on their left or their right,” says Professor Alexander Bertrand. “Once the system has identified the direction, the ‘acoustic camera’ redirects its aim, and the background noise is suppressed.”

The system is able to identify the voice it should be isolating and amplifying almost instantaneously, meaning that listeners can switch from one speaker to the other. Currently, the electroencephalogram (EEG) data utilised by the system has to be gathered via an electrode-equipped skull cap.

However, it is hoped that the setup can be further developed so that the EEG technology can be built into a compact hearing aid with integrated electrodes.

  • Would a ‘bore-eliminating’ hearing device help put Happy Hours back on your Big Lap agenda? Email us here to share your thoughts.
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