Elaine Saunders wins Clunies Ross Award
Is the creation of Peter Blamey and Elaine Saunders. Originally founded as Australia Hears, the Blamey Saunders hears clinic and offices are located at 364 Albert Street, East Melbourne.
You can test your hearing at home using the Blamey Saunders hearing test for free online. The test, launched in 2013, uses real words – not tones, which hearing tests for the last 70 years have used – and tells you which sounds of speech you find it hardest to hear.
The test was made freely-available to the public because Elaine and Peter believe that the traditional test has become a barrier to the four million Australians who would benefit from a hearing aid but do nothing about it.
You then obtain an immediate, easy-to-understand interpretation of the results. If you need a hearing aid Blamey Saunders can post you one within days.
The hearing aids arrive adjusted according to the results of the at-home test, and they require only minimal further tuning. This can be done either at home or with the help of an audiologist.
The hearing aids connect via cords to a widget called Incus, which then communicates via bluetooth with the IHearYou® app on a smartphone. The user can then adjust their hearing to suit noise levels changes for whichever environment they’re in, and save the settings if they’re going to be in similar surrounds in future.
To create on-the-spot settings for each new environment, users would previously have had to carry a programming box and lap top computer, or visit an audiologist to have their aids adjusted. They would then use a magnetic wand to change between different settings – hardly inconspicuous at the pub. All this can now be done using the Incus and a mobile phone: it provides the last link in creating an entirely remote service.
IHearYou is available for Windows, iPhone, iPad and Android.
These inventions have resulted from the founders’ original work on the bionic ear with Graeme Clark at the Bionics Institute, including development of Adaptive Dynamic Range Optimisation (ADRO®) technology. ADRO® ensures the important sound frequencies are at comfortable levels, and is now used in Bluetooth headsets, mobile phones and all Australian cochlear implants.
ADRO® was utilised by Blamey Saunders hears in developing their new hearing aid in 2011. The ADRO® processor analyses the whole spectrum of sound in 64 narrow bands and, using computer fuzzy logic, adjusts each one to keep sound frequencies within the chosen range of comfort—neither too soft nor too loud. This differs from conventional hearing aids which compress a wide range of input sounds into a narrower range of hearing.
The Blamey Saunders hearing aids also bring four other technologies into play. Blamey Saunders uses a patented technology that provides the shortest delay in the amplified sound of any device in the industry. ‘Multichannel-noise suppression technology’ improves sound quality without affecting must-hear sounds such as speech. The hearing aids also silence the whistling sounds associated with feedback and include an adaptive directional microphone that automatically amplifies the sounds towards which the head is turned
The Incus device adds to the ease of use of the system. It can be carried like a ‘personal audiologist’ in your pocket. The system also ’future-proofs’ hearing aids, allowing you to re-tune as your hearing changes, and is a template that could save the health system millions of dollars. It was developed in partnership with designer Leah Heiss, product developer Planet Innovation, and made in Dandenong by SRX Global.
The Incus programmer and IHearYou® system won the inaugural Good Design Award for Social Innovation last year. Leah Heiss, Australia’s leading medical device jewellery designer, and designer of the Incus, is working with us on our new modular hearing aids that will incorporate extra functionality and appearance to enhance the users’ experience. The devices will be made in Australia by Extel Technologies Pty Ltd.
A Commercialisation Australia grant went towards the design of software and of the Incus, and a Victorian Government Technology Voucher made it possible for Blamey Saunders hears to develop the self-fit IHearYou system to use with the Incus on smartphones or tablets. Further funding was from the founders and revenues.
The overall system has also received funding from: Commercialisation Australia, the Victorian Government’s Small Technologies program, AusIndustry, GBS Ventures (previously Rothschild Biosciences), and Four Hats Capital (previously Nanyang Ventures).
The underlying science was supported by the Australian government. Details below.
- After initial government support, the first funding for ADRO hearing aids (November 2000) was a $40,000 prize from the Melbourne University Entrepreneurs Challenge
- This led to $2 million in Innovation Investment Fund (IIF) Venture Capital funding from Rothschild Biosciences (now GBS Ventures) and Nanyang Ventures (now Four Hats Capital).
- In 2003, Dynamic Hearing received a further $3 million of IIF Venture Capital funding from GBS Ventures and Nanyang Ventures.
- Mid-2003, Dynamic Hearing received a $750,000 start grant from AusIndustry
- 2004 it received a further $250,000 from AusIndustry’s Biosciences Innovation Fund (BIF).
- 2005 Dynamic Hearing received a Commercial Ready grant of $1.28 million from AusIndustry.
- 2011, $50,000 from Victorian Department of Business and Innovation. This was used with RMIT to create a novel hearing aid prototype – not yet commercialised
- 2012 Commercialisation Australia Grant – $210,000 used to develop Incus, working with local partners Planet Innovation and leading to manufacture in Victoria
- 2014 Victorian Technology Voucher $250,000 – development of Smart phone and tablet self-fit hearing aid system, to use with Incus, as part of the IHearYou system
- 2015-2016 Commercialisation Australia, Accelerating Commercialisation Grant of almost $1million– for development and manufacture of modular hearing aids in Australia.
Executive Director – Operations & Technology Peter Blamey’s inventions are used in hearing aids, cochlear implants and headsets from major international manufacturers. In 2007, he was presented with the American Academy of Audiology’s International Award, and in 2012, Peter was awarded the prestigious Clunies Ross Science and Technology Medal for his research and development of hearing aids.
Managing Director Dr. Elaine Saunders is an award-winning businesswoman, audiologist and academic. Her accolades include being awarded one of the AFR/Westpac – 100 Women of Influence 2015, , the BioMelbourne Network, Women in Leadership Award 2015, the Victorian Pearcey Entrepreneur Award in 2011, and the American Academy of Audiology’s Award for Achievement in Industry in 2010. Elaine was awarded the 2012 Melbourne Award for Contribution to Community by an Individual. She is Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Science, Engineering & Technology, Swinburne University.
Elaine’s father had hearing loss. Ever since she volunteered at a school for deaf children more than 40 years ago, Elaine Saunders has had a passion for assisting the hearing impaired. She has worked as a hearing researcher and academic, and can provide as good an overview of the field as anyone in Australia. Despite her position as Managing Director of Blamey Saunders hears, she is more than willing and able to talk from a general, non-commercial perspective.
- Watch an explanation of the IHearYou system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?131&v=-0Z9R0rVVoA
- Read more about the Speech Perception Test: scienceinpublic.com.au/media-releases/hearingtest#more-17001
- And take the test on the Blamey Saunders hears website: blameysaunders.com.au
- For more on the hearing aids developed in 2011: scienceinpublic.com.au/media-releases/a-hearing-aid-you-install-yourself
- To download the IHearYou® software: blameysaunders.com.au/ihearyou
- Elaine’s new book published by New Holland: www.amazon.com/Sound-Silence-Elaine-Saunders/dp/1742576362 or www.booktopia.com.au/sound-of-silence-elaine-saunders/prod9781742576367.html
For more information and previous media stories: scienceinpublic.com.au/category/blameysaunders