Muscle in the ear could transform handsfree communication
Updated: Feb 22
The ear is not just an auditory input device, it has the potential to be a complex input/output tool which could revolutionise how we communicate.
Taking part in Innovate UK KTN’s Neurotechnology Webinar, EarSwitch™ Founder Dr Nick Gompertz revealed his research on the untapped power of the inner ear.
The former NHS doctor first had the idea to research the potential of the ear to help people with motor neurone disease communicate better. Now he’s developing the technology with the support of NIHR (National Institute for Health and Care Research) and Bristol University.
Nick began developing EarSwitch™ technology when he discovered that a tiny muscle in the ear can be moved voluntarily.
His findings are also set to have a wide-reaching impact on our everyday lives, including the way we use earphones, monitor our health, receive treatment, play games, and use augmented reality devices.
Nick discovered that this muscle moves involuntarily when the eyes are moved left and right, and up and down. With this finding, the team is developing technology to track intent and augment the scope of non-verbal communication using sensors in the ears.
This new information about how the ear works also paves the way for eye-gaze tracking; whether someone is focusing close or far away. This could be a useful tool in enhancing the experience of using augmented reality devices.
In doing this research, the team also noticed they could detect pulse movements, breathing movements, and oxygen levels. Presenting a possible breakthrough for recent concerns over the efficacy of finger pulse oximeters in accurately measuring blood oxygen in black and white patients, they discovered that these measurements should be equal in all racial groups. That means the development of this in-ear sensor could deliver accurate, racially-agnostic blood oxygen measurements in healthcare settings.
The technology could also be applied to harness the intentional use of this muscle to control the same sort of keyboards used by Professor Stephen Hawking.
EarSwitch™ founder and former GP Nick Gompertz, says, ‘We’re currently working on several exciting use cases. These include collaborating with a professional eSports team to provide gamers with an 11th finger, handsfree advantage, and to embed our technology into earphones to create a standalone computer which does not rely on connection to the smartphone.’
Find out more about EarSwitch™ by visiting www.earswitch.co.uk.
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