With the inventors’ competition Ideas4Ears, cochlear implant manufacturer MED-EL challenged children from across the world to create inventions that improve the quality of life of people with a cochlear implant or hearing loss. In April, the eight winners met at MED-EL Headquarters in Innsbruck, Austria. The participants from Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, the UK and the USA not only impressed the audience with their youthful curiosity but also with their interesting and sometimes completely new approaches to the topic.
“We are overwhelmed by the interest Ideas4Ears sparked, but even more so by the quality of the ideas. The one-of-a-kind inventions are creative, innovative and even quite mature. The children have dealt in depth with the challenges deaf people are facing every day and have come up with great solutions. It is an honour to meet the winners here in Innsbruck,” Geoffrey Ball, Chief Technical Officer at MED-EL and inventor of the VIBRANT SOUNDBRIDGE, said during the event.
Exciting trip: Behind the scenes, meeting the cochlear implant makers, visiting Audioversum Science Center
The two-day trip was a unique experience for the young inventors. They were able to look behind the scenes and see special places like the MED-EL Training Lab.
Cochlear implant users among the winners got a very special gift. They got to meet the people who made their implants. “Each MED-EL cochlear implant has its individual serial number. We can therefore exactly trace which staff member manufactured an implant,” explained Ball.
The group also visited the Audioversum Science Center. The Scream Box and the large inner ear model were the childrens’ favourites at this interactive museum.
About the little (big) inventors
Alexandre, a bilateral cochlear implant user from Brazil, developed various innovative applications to improve and facilitate the lives of people with hearing loss. During his stay in Innsbruck he also met with Professor Rudolf Häusler, the surgeon who had implanted him 10 years ago. Dr. Häusler had travelled to Brazil in 2008 to provide Alexandre with his first MED-EL implant.
With his inventive theory, young Parker from the USA wants to help his mother and brother, both of whom have profound hearing loss. Parker would like to implant the regenerative cells of salamanders into human macrophages, the cells responsible for repairing and regenerating tissue. If these cells are injected near the hair cells in the cochlea, Parker explains, they can regenerate and cure his mother‘s and brother‘s hearing loss. In the long run, Parker wants to find a cure for hearing loss. He was thrilled to discuss his ideas with MED-EL researchers during his stay in Innsbruck.
Avery‘s little sister Raquel (USA) uses cochlear implants. She inspired him to take part in the inventors’ competition Ideas4Ears. The implant opened up the world of hearing for Raquel. Her audio processor, however, looks rather big on her small ears. Avery therefore designed a smaller audio processor that is more comfortable – like a piece of jewellery. This makes the processor more practical and at the same time more fashionable. In Innsbruck, Avery and his sister met the people who had worked on Raquel‘s implant – a very emotional moment for the whole family.
Arwen and Katharina from Germany invented 3D-glasses with subtitles for people with hearing loss. Spoken text is automatically shown on the lower edge of the glasses. The two girls came up with the idea after a visit to the movies, when they realised that deaf people can only see the pictures but cannot hear anything that is being said in the film.
Olivia from New Zealand could hardly await her trip to MED-EL. Her invention, called MED-EL Magic, is a soft, thin patch that replaces the audio processor at night. It talks to the alarm clock, phone or smoke alarm, wakening implant users up if needed. Olivia also invented a sticker that can be attached to any smoke alarm and will alert people with hearing loss if it goes off.
Jacob from the UK invented Hearing Glasses that help people with hearing loss see things they cannot hear. The glasses detect sounds and turn conversations into written words. Jacob is already working on improving his invention and was enthusiastic about presenting it in front of many MED-EL inventors.
The fourth grade Uttendorf elementary school class from Salzburg in Austria won a prize for several innovative ideas that benefit the hearing impaired. Among them were a Speaking and Writing Glove, a Vibrating Wristband that warns users of approaching cars, a Reading Watch that flashes when the doorbell rings and converts spoken text into writing.
Innovation – the basis for cochlear implant progress
Innovations are vital to improve the lives of people with hearing loss. The Ideas4Ears inventors’ competition was proof that there is still a lot to research and discover for a better quality of life of hard of hearing people. The MED-EL jury was thrilled by the fact that the children did not consider hearing loss an isolated problem of individuals, but looked at it from a more complex point of view, considering it as a societal issue. Interpersonal relationships, support for each other and the social environment are crucial factors for successfully handling hearing loss, besides all the technical and medical solutions that already exist. This is very important to MED-EL. MED-EL‘s goal was to raise awareness for hearing loss among young people all over the world and inspire them. With Ideas4Ears they certainly achieved this goal.
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