Alejandro Lopez

Research Engineer

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Eye-steering of hearing devices means that the hearing aid user can choose which audio to amplify just by looking at a specific speaker.

It can be complicated for a person with a hearing impairment to follow a conversation when several people speak at the same time.
The underlying idea of steering hearing devices is to give the hearing aid user intuitive control over the selection of desired sound in these situations. This means, for example, that the user can effortlessly choose what speaker to listen to in a multi-talker scenario, e.g. the proverbial cocktail party situation.

Directionality in Hearing aids

Current Hearing aid technology can already contribute to this task by use of directionality. However, hearing aid directionality is traditionally locked to a frontal focus directionality meaning that the sounds to the front of the microphones are favoured, and sound information outside of the field of the directionality beam is discarded. That means that the user must react swiftly and promptly in dynamic conversation scenarios not to lose content.


Head steering vs eye steering

People participating in a dynamic conversation, where speakers are taking turns and the sound of interest changes its origin, tend to change their behaviour to accommodate for the different speakers. This can be achieved by turning the head towards the speaker in turn, which we understand as ‘Head steering’.

This, in principle, is a form of steering hearing devices with frontal focus directionality. Another behavioural trait of conversation dynamics is the movement of the eyes towards the speaker in turn. With a directionality beam that is free to follow the fixation of the eyes as they travel from speaker to speaker we create another method of steering hearing devices, ‘eye steering’.

A study conducted at Eriksholm Research Centre highlighted the fact that users tend to react faster to conversational switches with the eye movements than with head movements. Additionally, the movement of the head does not accurately reflect where the location of the speaker is, while the eyes are more closely fixated to the target speaker. Read more about this study here.


Two methods to assess eye movements

At Eriksholm Research Centre, we concentrate on two different methods to assess eye movements for steering hearing devices.
The first method relies on the tracking of the position of the eyes by means of infrared cameras directed towards the user’s face. You can read more about our eye-tracking project here.

The second method relies on the bio-electrical signature of eye (i.e. electrooculogram or EOG) movements by means of electrodes mounted inside the ear of the user. You can read more about our EOG project here.