SRM Students on Innovation Breakthrough: Providing Hope for the Hearing Disabled

Two intrepid inventors, SRM engineering students - Abhinav Gandhi, 2nd year ECE and Aditya S Sripada, 3rd year EEE, have embarked on a journey of hope for millions of hearing disabled people, with their award winning gadget "AaWAAZ".

Touched by the debilitation caused by hearing disability, the students took on the challenge to do something about it. The magnitude is mind boggling: 360 million people with hearing impairment across the world, according to WHO estimates, with nearly a 6th or 63 million living in India.

“We were determined to help mitigate the problem “, said Abhinav. “We began to ideate, innovate and create something which one day could help the millions suffering from hearing disabilities. With this AaWAAZ was born!” he went on to add excitedly. 

Christened AaWAAZ, the invention, is based on two basic principles, vibration and bone conduction. Vibrations produce signals which the human brain processes as sound while the bone conducts the vibrations to the brain. To produce the vibrations the team used an ingenious electromechanical device, connected to an audio input via a series of amplifies and filters.

One thing was clear to the team, whatever their new solution, it had to be an improvement on what currently existed.  Currently, hearing aids are worn behind the ear or in the ear canal. Hearing aids, though, are only helpful for those with partial hearing loss. Total hearing loss calls for invasive surgery, with surgeons drilling a hole in the bone behind the ear, through which a vibratory device is attached. With a microphone and amplifier attached to the external ear, sounds from the external environment are picked up.

As with any invasive surgery, the risk of failure is high, nearly 25 % in hearing disability. There is also the added risk of infection through meningitis, and pain or irritation caused by the device. Surgery is also a prolonged procedure, requiring frequent hospital visits and re-fittings.

“We were determined to create a non-invasive device which would put an end to all these problems. Our first prototype was ready within a week of brainstorming, ideating and a few sleepless nights at Shaastra’s Makers Summit 16, where we bagged the first prize! ”, said Aditya, who designed the filter network for clear audio reception. The first two days went towards ideating and discussing problem statements, followed by two days for development of technological solution.

As with any invention, the path is long and arduous. But never to give up, the inventors created AaWAAZ. The fruits of labour were realised after conducting extensive research on hearing impairment or anacusisi, a total or partial inability to hear. They learnt that hearing loss could be congenital from birth or acquired through accidental damage to the hearing organs.

With little or no sleep, it took 40 hours to perfect the device. Critical inputs were provided by senior mentors from the industry. Valuable advice was also provided by Dr. M Sangeetha, Assistant Professor (Sr. G) ECE dept. of SRM Institute of Science and Technology (formerly known as SRM University).  The duo paid tribute to the teachers at SRM who provided encouragement to work on individual projects and to develop the necessary skills that are needed for such challenging projects.

To make the invention ubiquitous, a cap was chosen. “Our secondary objective was to create a product that would not be visible to the eye, unlike the common hearing aid we wanted to design a device that would be hidden from the eye.  And bingo we thought of the simple cap, an item of everyday use, with universal acceptance and appeal! “, said Abhinav.

The team have their road map chalked out. A paper is to be published soon to make the results public, so any one can take up manufacturing of the device. An altruistic thought indeed, caring for humankind, when they could have gone in for patenting instead and thereby owning the idea. Other applications on the horizon are tempting, navigation guidance for visually impaired, defence and underwater/space hearing aid.

Selected by MIT to study one semester with a partial scholarship from SRM, Abhinav’s path is clear. “To go to MIT for a semester is a dream come true. I look forward to collaborating with Prof. Rob Miller of the EECS department to take this project forward’, he said.

Good luck to the young inventors!