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Voice-Powered Implants: Making Cochlear Devices Smarter

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Anyone who has a pacemaker, cochlear implants, or stents will tell you about the importance of these medical procedures. However, active implants can cause complications when the time comes to charge their batteries. Especially in devices such as cochlear implants, which need to be implanted into the head, frequent surgeries are neither suggested nor encouraged, so the medical world is searching for a better solution to this common problem. Recently, the California Institute of Technology may have come up with the answer.

Internal Mini Power Plants

Dr Hycuk Choo and his team at the Institute have been experimenting with electricity farming through the use of small sheets of lead zirconate titanate. These piezoelectric sheets actually create electricity when they vibrate, so running sound vibrations across the metal will produce a certain level of electric charge. Varying the size of the material also increases or decreases the amount of energy that is created. Choo hypothesised that the energy produced by vocal cord vibrations could be conducted to power implanted devices. In essence, he wanted to create miniature power plants from within the human body. His theory was correct, and Choo and his colleagues are currently adapting their research to find new ways of harnessing the energy produced by vocal cords to power the cochlear implants. If successful, this technological breakthrough would be a medical “miracle” to alleviate the long and complicated issue of battery-operated implanted devices.

Closing in on the Answers

Although the amount of electricity produced by this process is negligible, it’s enough to accomplish the task at hand. Choo announced at the International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems held in Shanghai this January that his team hopes to create a working prototype in the near future. Such an invention would truly minimise the complications that have previously stemmed from these implants, eliminating the need to separate the power pack from the device altogether.

 

Battery packs will still be required to store the energy produced during speech time, since nobody can keep talking 24/7. But as research continues to favour this enlightening solution, doctors are finding that snoring sounds can also generate some of the electric frequency required to power the implants. So while the technology has not quite reached its final stages, researchers are very optimistic about the future of sound vibration-generating power plants being the wave of the implant future.