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Technology and people with hearing loss

Regardless of how people feel about their hearing loss, most would agree that they are lucky to be coping with hearing loss today, rather than in the past. And most would also agree that one of the big reasons for these feelings is that the technological advances of the past few years are of great benefit to hearing impaired persons. From computers to TTYs to cochlear implants to hair cell regeneration, technology to assist persons with hearing loss has exploded in recent years, and will likely continue to explode in the future.

Acoustics is the study of sound and how it behaves in an environment. A good acoustic environment is of huge importance to people with hearing loss.

Alerting devices include things like alarm clocks, smoke alarms, and doorbells. You’re probably very familiar with them. But the standard ones all rely on sound, so they provide little value to persons with hearing loss. Fortunately, modern technology has been able to provide devices that provide these functions for hard of hearing, late deafened, and oral deaf persons.

Assistive listening devices (ALDs) encompass a wide variety of devices whose purpose is to improve the audibility of sound in particular situations. Assistive listening devices are extremely beneficial to hard of hearing, late deafened, or oral deaf persons  who retain some residual hearing.

The Auditory Brainstem Implant is a cousin of the Cochlear Implant that is used when the auditory nerve is not viable.

Cochlear implants are relatively recent inventions that can partially restore the ability to process sound for people with hearing loss. They seem to be especially effective for late-deafened people who have had some usable hearing in recent years. Cochlear implants are somewhat controversial within the Deaf Community, but with their growing success has come growing acceptance.

Hearing aids are one of the mainstays of personal communication for people with hearing loss. There are an incredible variety of devices available. One of the more recent advances is the digital hearing aid, which promises the ability to more closely match your hearing aid to your hearing loss.

Instant Messaging (IM) isn’t a service that is specifically intended for people with hearing loss, but it is one that is much appreciated and used by our community.

Speech recognition is a promising technology that has the capability to really open up communications to people with hearing loss. Although it is not currently commercially viable, the progress in recent years has been astounding. An accurate, usable system in the next few years in not out of the question.

The telephone is one of the basic communications tools of modern society, and the ability to use a voice telephone greatly eases the communications access problem. There are a large variety of devices that can assist people who have a hearing loss to use the telephone.

TTYs or TDDs are devices that allow persons with hearing loss to communicate without using speech over telephone lines. They looking something like a typewriter; instead of speaking, the person with hearing loss types what they want to say. instead of listening, the person with hearing loss reads what the other person has typed.

A modern telecommunications device that is taking the hearing loss world by storm is the two way pager. The hearing loss equivalent of the cell phone, these devices provide mobile communications to hard of hearing and deaf consumers.

Here’s our coverage of all kinds of captioning (TV, movies, theater, radio, etc.)

Visual Communications refers to the practice of providing visual (textual) representations of the audio information that is currently lost on people with hearing loss.

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March 2013 – Apple Files Hearing Aid Detection Patent Application

Sept 2012 – Sharp-eared glasses let deaf people ‘see’ sounds

May 2012 – Google Glasses patent hints at speech-to-text display for deaf users

March 2012 – Eight Terrific Techy Devices for the Deaf

December 2011 – There’s a hearing app for that

October 2011 – Apps With Amps: Mobile Devices Provide Hearing Assistance

August 2011 – Apple iOS5 Beta Features Hearing Aid Mode, Speech to Text

August 2011 – Better Hearing Is Being Made More Convenient

May 2011 – iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch Apps for Better Hearing

April 2011 – Hearing Loss Blog Focuses on Technology to Help You Hear

December 2010 – New iPhone App for Testing Hearing and Hearing Aids

September 2010 – Hearing Aid Technology Makes Consumer Devices More Accessible

September 2010 – dB Logic Debuts Volume Limiting Headphones

September 2010 – Texting is a boon for people with hearing loss

June 2010 – Novel bioplastic to boost performance of bionic devices

April 2010 – Amplified Stethoscope Options for Professionals with Hearing Loss

October 2009 – Device Helps Deaf and Blind Cross Streets Safely

August 2009 – Device Allows Deaf Blind Folks to Communicate with Hearing Folks

March 2009 – Canadian device allows deaf to ‘hear’ music through skin

October 2008 – Artificial cochlea: an example of structural processing

July 2008 – Musical frequencies turned into tactile sensations for deaf

July 2008 – Audience Introduces Industry-First Voice Processor Based on Human Hearing System

June 2008 – Auditory Brainstem Implant Allows Child to Communicate

June 2008 – Implants moving up the neurological chain

June 2008 – Nuisance Noise Silenced by an Acoustic Cloak

March 2008 – Youngest Patient Receives Auditory Brainstem Implant (ABI)

March 2008 – Using Nanotechnology and Nanoparticles to Improve Hearing

March 2008 – UNC Performs Auditory Brainstem Implant

February 2008 – Samsung Product Searches TV Content Using Caption Data

January 2008 – House Ear Institute’s Exciting Hearing Loss Projects

September 2007 – TDI Conference Workshop – New Toys and Tools: Speech Recognition and Video Chat

August 2007 – New Headphones Allow Parents to Monitor Listening Levels

June 2007 – Auditory Nerve Implant Next Big Hearing Loss Breakthrough?

November 2006 – Robotics Helps Non-Signing Gallaudet Students Learn

May 2006 – High-tech gadgets help deaf hear well

May 2005 – This Western Symposium on Deafness (WSD) workshop entitled “I Can SEE What You Hear” provided a nice overview of the various technologies that are provide communications access for people with hearing loss. The three main discussion areas were Classroom Access, Communication Technologies, and Signaling Devices. The workshop was presented by Pat Billies and Dr. Marcia Kolvitz.

September 2004 – If you’d like a good overview of current telecommunications topics, Marjie Page’s primer might be just the thing.

September 2004 – Don’t you have to hear well to be a bird-watcher? It’s called “birdwatching”, but don’t you need to hear their calls to find and help identify them? So how can a person with hearing loss be a successful birdwatcher?

October 2003 – Here’s an interesting article about a TDI convention workshop entitled “Catching up to the Future“. In it Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden discusses ways of designing complete accessibility into future devices.

July 2002 – If you want to know what’s going on with hearing aid technology, the Exhibit Hall at the SHHH Convention is a great place to learn. It took Cheryl four articles to record all the information she gathered in her five hour visit!

December 2001 – Disney provides wireless captioning devices.

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Apple Files Hearing Aid Detection Patent Application

March 2013

Apple Inc filed a patent application (United States Patent Application 20130034234) on February 7 for a system that would automatically detect a hearing aid via the use of a proximity and a magnetic field sensor, then select the appropriate hearing aid mode based on the detection system. Specifically theproposed concept is summarized as:

“A hearing aid compatible portable electronic audio device is configured to automatically determine whether or not the device is being used by a hearing impaired user who is wearing a hearing aid, and select a mode of operation based on this determination. The device includes a proximity sensor and a magnetic field sensor. The proximity sensor is used to detect a change in distance of the device to the user’s ear. The magnetic field sensor is used to detect a change in magnetic field caused by the device moving relative to the hearing aid. The device selects between a normal audio mode of operation and a hearing aid compatible mode of operation based on both the change in detected distance and the change in detected magnetic field. Other embodiments are also described and claimed.” Full Story

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Sharp-eared glasses let deaf people ‘see’ sounds

Sept 2012

IF YOU can hear, you probably take sound for granted. Without thinking, we swing our attention in the direction of a loud or unexpected sound – the honk of a car horn, say. Because deaf people lack access to such potentially life-saving cues, a group of researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon built a pair of glasses which allows the wearer to “see” when a loud sound is made, and gives an indication of where it came from. An array of seven microphones, mounted on the frame of the glasses, pinpoints the location of such sounds and relays that directional information to the wearer through a set of LEDs embedded inside the frame. The glasses will only flash alerts on sounds louder than a threshold level, which is defined by the wearer. Previous attempts at devices which could alert deaf users to surrounding noises have been ungainly. For example, research in 2003 at the University of California, Berkeley, used a computer monitor to provide users with a visual aid to pinpoint the location of a sound. The Korean team have not beaten this problem quite yet – the prototype requires a user to carry a laptop around in a backpack to process the signal. But lead researcher Yang-Hann Kim stresses that the device is a first iteration that will be miniaturised over the next few years.  Full Story

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Google Glasses patent hints at speech-to-text display for deaf users

May 2012

Google is bulking up on patents to protect its new augmented reality glasses project from legal attack, with at least nine new patents issued in the past week to cover various aspects of the futuristic devices. The patents provide a glimpse into what a heads-up display from Google could provide to real-life users beyond what we learned when Google unveiled Project Glass last month. Perhaps most interestingly, one patent shows Google is working on a system to help hard-of-hearing and deaf users detect and interpret nearby sounds. The glasses’ heads-up display would show arrows and flashing lights to indicate the direction and intensity level of the sound, and even display the words nearby people are speaking. The patent, #8,183,997, was issued to Google today and is titled “Displaying sound indications on a wearable computing system.” The system would integrate a speech-to-text feature that determines the text of speech and displays it for the wearer of the glasses. Full Story

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Eight Terrific Techy Devices for the Deaf

March 2012

Here’s a pretty interesting collection of “techy” devices for people with hearing loss. Unlike so many of these types of articles, some of these devices look like they might be of value to some people. And some of them are rather unique!  Full Story

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There’s a hearing app for that

December 2011

Apps are downloadable programs on mobile devices that provide individuals with a service, whether it’s a game to pass the time, a recipe creator, or a convenient flashlight. These apps have become one of the most popular features of Apple and Android mobile devices, and now the hearing impaired have access to apps extending from hearing tests to actual hearing aids. The uncomplicated accessibility of these apps has increased usage among patients and has sparked the curiosity of practitioners. “I think this is really exciting,” said Brian Fligor, ScD, Director of Diagnostic Audiology at Children’s Hospital Boston. “It’s exciting that any apps have been developed because it shows that people care about hearing. People care about sound and people’s perception of sound. It’s showing that the appropriate attention is being given to this topic.” Josef Shargorodsky, MD, an otolaryngologist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, who wrote an article on hearing apps with Fligor (Hearing Health Magazine, April 13, 2011), agreed that the increased attention on hearing loss, particularly among adoslescents, has assisted in making apps more popular.  Full Story

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Apple iOS5 Beta Features Hearing Aid Mode, Speech to Text

August 2011

9to5Mac reports that speech to text capabilities are built into the iOS 5 keyboard in this release. This indicates Apple may actually be using technology from Nuance, a voice recognition software company, as earlier rumors suggested. In June, Macstories reported an internal iOS 5 screenshots leak showing “Nuance Diction” controls. A hearing aid functionality was also discovered by YouTuber NatesTechUpdate (video below), which can be toggled on or off from the accessibility page, found in settings. The feature will improve use with hearing aids, but may reduce 2G cellular coverage, according to the feature description.  Full Story

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Better Hearing Is Being Made More Convenient

August 2011

A group of hearing health professionals, including ear, nose and throat doctors, audiologists and sound engineers, have teamed up to tackle the wide and underserved market of people who have some hearing loss, but not necessarily enough to require a hearing aid. . . . Prof. Van Hasselt is one of the principal developers of ACEHearing, a “firmware”-software embedded in hardware. They say ACEHearing essentially turns everyday consumer electronics into hearing-enhancement devices. The innovation is a finalist in this year’s Asian Innovation Awards. . . . The first application of the technology will be on smartphones, either as a downloadable app or firmware that will be installed in phones before purchase.Users will be able to assess their own hearing in a quiet room by performing a hearing test that takes about five minutes. The device will capture and assess the individual’s hearing profile, and then calibrate the smartphone to adjust and enhance its sound output by filling in gaps in the part of the sound spectrum where hearing is less than ideal. It doesn’t just make everything louder.  Full Story

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iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch Apps for Better Hearing

May 2011

For those who work in the hearing health care field, these apps have become tools for hearing tests. While self-administered hearing tests are nothing new (think Bksy audio metry), apps arguably allow a greater level of accessibility to the technology. Users should be aware that the accuracy of each of these tests is not yet known, as literature has not yet been published to compare them to a gold-standard hearing test. Perhaps at present most appropriate as a screening measure, they should not replace a visit to a qualified hearing health care professional. Users may feel more comfortable making an appointment after trying them out. Here is a quick review of four apps for the iPad as well as the iPhone and iPod Touch.    Full Story

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Hearing Loss Blog Focuses on Technology to Help You Hear

April 2011

A friend of mine has recently started a new blog that focuses on technology to help you hear. The first few entries cover telecoils and induction loops in some depth; the recent entries move on to additional topics of interest to folks with hearing loss. I’m betting it’ll be a pretty comprehensive site on hearing loss technology before long! Point your browser to www.heargear.wordpress.com

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Texting is a boon for people with hearing loss

September 2010

Quietly over the last decade, phones that make text messaging easy have changed life profoundly for millions of deaf people. Gone are the days of a deaf person driving to someone’s house just to see if they are home. Wives text their deaf husbands in the basement, just as a hearing wife might yell down the stairs. Deaf teens blend in with the mall crowd since they’re constantly texting, like everyone else in high school. Visit the Alabama School for the Deaf, and it’s impossible to miss the signs of a revolution that many hearing people simply never noticed. Most everyone at the school in Talladega has at least one handheld texting device, and some have two. At lunch, deaf diners order burgers and fries by text: Punch in the order and show it at the counter. For the first time, a generation of deaf people can communicate with the world on its terms, using cell phones, BlackBerrys or iPhones, of which some 260 million are in use in the United States. Matt Kochie, who is deaf, has been texting his entire adult life and has a hard time imagining a day without it.  Full Story

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Novel bioplastic to boost performance of bionic devices

June 2010

A young researcher has developed conductive bioplastics that will boost the performance of bionic devices such as the cochlear ear and the proposed bionic eye. “Our plastics will lead to smaller devices that use safer smaller currents and that encourage nerve interaction,” says biomedical engineer. Rylie Green of University of New South Wales (UNSW). Her plastics are already being tested in prototype bionic eyes and she hopes they will find application wherever researchers are attempting to integrate electronics with the human body.  Full Story

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Amplified Stethoscope Options for Professionals with Hearing Loss

April 2010

Medical professionals rely on auscultation to routinely examine the status of the circulatory, respiratory, and/or gastrointestinal systems. Auscultation is defined as listening to internal sounds of the body and represents an essential component in the delivery of health care services. The procedure is accomplished through the use of a stethoscope, a medical device specifically designed to enable physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals to detect and analyze heart, lung, and/or bowel sounds for purposes of differential diagnosis. The art of auscultation not only requires a level of clinical skill, but also assumes the presence of optimal listening conditions that would enable the practitioner to hear what needs to be heard. For medical professionals with hearing loss, the routine use of traditional stethoscopes inherently creates several challenges. Physicians or nurses with hearing loss may experience difficulty hearing certain internal body sounds since the presence of a hearing loss may prohibit the ability to actually hear necessary heart, lung, and/or bowel sounds for differential diagnosis. While amplified stethoscopes designed to compensate for hearing loss are commercially available, medical professionals who are current users of amplification are faced with additional challenges that may preclude the successful use of amplified stethoscopes in conjunction with hearing instrumentation. The goal of this article is to provide audiologists with an overview of viable stethoscope options while also addressing associated limitations for purposes of facilitating realistic expectations.  Full Story

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Device Helps Deaf and Blind Cross Streets Safely

October 2009

Capetonians with visual and hearing disabilities could find navigating the city’s roads somewhat safer in future, following the city’s announcement that it will equip all new road intersections with vibrating audio-signal buttons to ensure safe crossing. Mayco member for transport Elizabeth Thompson yesterday demonstrated the device at the crossing outside the Cape Town Society for the Blind in Salt River. As part of the public participation process around the Integrated Rapid Transit plan, the city received several calls for these devices from organisations representing disabled people.  Full Story

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Device Allows Deaf Blind Folks to Communicate with Hearing Folks

August 2009

The DeafBlind Communicator changes all that. It features a laptop-sized device that has either a regular or Braille keyboard. Beneath that keyboard is a second, smaller keyboard with Braille keys. There is also a second, smaller device that resembles a personal digital assistant, or PDA, in size and appearance. When a deaf-blind person wishes to communicate with a non-signing person, he or she simply hands over the smaller device and sends the following message, which is both displayed on the text screen and electronically spoken through speakers: “Hi, I am deaf-blind (I can’t hear or see). To communicate with me, type a message and press” the return arrow. The return message is converted into Braille, which the deaf-blind person is able to read by touch on the smaller set of keys on the keyboard device.  Full Story

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Canadian device allows deaf to ‘hear’ music through skin

March 2009

A chair that allows the hearing-impaired to experience music in a new way will be featured at a concert in Toronto designed for deaf people. The Emoti-Chair is a three-year venture developed at Ryerson University’s centre for learning technologies in conjunction with the science of music, auditory research and technology (SMART) lab. The idea is to treat the skin as a hearing membrane, said Carmen Branje, one of the Ryerson researchers. Branje, 26, who has a bachelor’s degree in computing science and a master’s in management science, also plays drums in the Toronto punk rock band Hollywood Swank, one of the groups that will be performing at the concert on Thursday.  Full Story

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Artificial cochlea: an example of structural processing

October 2008

Current state-of-the-art technology for an artificial cochlea operates in a similar fashion except that, unlike the tightly curled cochlea, the MEMS (microelectromechanical-system)-based cochlea stretches out in a linear structure. The 3-cm-long device comprises an acoustic input port at the narrow end of a tapered strip. Where the strip is narrow, the sense material is stiff and vibrates in response to high-frequency compression waves in the fluid that the strip is immersed in. Additionally, as the strip widens, the material is more compliant, vibrates more easily, and absorbs the energy of lower-frequency waves  Full Story

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Musical frequencies turned into tactile sensations for deaf

July 2008

For Ellen Hibbard music has never really meant very much. Deaf from birth, she would only be able to experience a tune by placing her hands on a flat wooden surface near the stereo or radio, or directly on the amplifier. But now that’s all changed. And for the first time she has an understanding of why people love music – be it rock and roll, jazz or classical. Hibbard has tested an experimental “emoti-chair,” which with the help of a computer translates music into a series of tactile sensations, including rocking and vibrating. Think of it as a kind of full-body vibrator triggered by the frequency of individual notes in a musical composition or even random sounds.   Full Story

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Auditory Brainstem Implant Allows Child to Communicate

June 2008

Jorden, son of Olympic gold medalist Vonetta Flowers and Johnny Flowers, was born without auditory nerves and ear canals. His twin brother, Jaden, was born healthy, despite the pair being born at 30 weeks. “We didn’t even know [Jorden] was alive after the doctors came in,” Johnny Flowers said. “They started talking about the complications with premature births. They painted a really dark picture of his future.” But the 2-pound, 9-ounce Jorden pulled through. That was the first sign of the determination that has become synonymous with the youngster’s character. Many other signs would follow, as Jorden became what doctors say is the first American child to undergo an auditory brainstem implant that allows him to hear. The family began researching Jorden’s condition and treatments for his disability. Vonetta Flowers said they immediately started to learn sign language so they could teach Jorden to communicate. “His first sign was ‘milk,'” Vonetta said. “It was funny because he’d do the sign in the middle of the night like he expected you to be watching.”  Full Story

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Implants moving up the neurological chain

June 2008

You’ve almost certainly heard of the cochlear implant, a device that stimulates the auditory nerve at the cochlea and has restored “hearing” to tens of thousands of people worldwide. You may have also heard of the auditory brainstem implant (ABI), which is used for people whose auditory nerves aren’t intact, particularly for people whose auditory nerves have been severed during tumor removal. But you probably haven’t heard of auditory midbrain implants, which are implanted in the midbrain, which is farther up the neurological chain than the brainstem. This implant is being investigated as an improvement for folks who would otherwise get the ABI. And initial results look promising!  Full Story

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Nuisance Noise Silenced by an Acoustic Cloak

June 2008

Researchers in Spain have proven that metamaterials, materials defined by their unusual man-made cellular structure, can be designed to produce an acoustic cloak-a cloak that can make objects impervious to sound waves, literally diverting sound waves around an object. The research, “Acoustic cloaking in two dimensions: a feasible approach”, published June 13, 2008, in the New Journal of Physics (NJP), builds on recent theoretical research which has sought ways to produce materials that can hide objects from sound, sight, and x-rays. Daniel Torrent and José Sánchez-Dehesa from the Wave Phenomena Group, Department of Electronics Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, cite theoretical work published early last year in NJP by researchers from Duke University in North Carolina as the starting point for their more practical approach.   Full Story

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Youngest Patient Receives Auditory Brainstem Implant (ABI)

March 2008

NAVARRA, Spain – A team of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists and neurosurgeons at the University Hospital of Navarra, led by doctors Manuel Manrique Rodríguez, specialist in ENT surgery, and Bartolomé Bejarano Herruzo, a specialist in paediatric neurosurgery, have successfully operated on a 13-month-old girl from Murcia, who had been born deaf due to the lack of auditory nerves. She is the youngest patient in the world who has received an auditory implant in the brain stem. As a result of the operation, the child has begun to hear and started language development, according to reports. Previously, the medical center had carried out, also successfully, a similar procedure on an 8-year-old girl. Throughout the world there have only been 38 brain stem implants in children under the age of 12. In this most recent case, the child was born with a congenital illness characterized by the absence of the cochlear (auditory) nerves, which have the task of transmitting to the brain the sound stimuli received by the auditory passage from the exterior. It is notable that the rate of this disorder in the overall population is very low, estimated at 1 in every 100,000 newly born babies.  Full Story

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UNC Performs Auditory Brainstem Implant

March 2008

Cochlear implants have helped many people with severe to profound hearing loss to hear sounds and recognize speech. But in the past if the electronic hearing devices failed, there were no options.   Now, doctors at UNC Hospitals are using an alternative way to help those patients.   Seven years ago, Watson Hale, 65, of Morehead City had bacterial meningitis.   “But that took my hearing. My body temperature got up so high it burned my hair cells and that’s when I became deaf,” Hale said.   He’d hoped a cochlear implant would help him, but that depended on whether the snail shaped cochlea could still function.  “His cochlea was not fine. He received a cochlear implant and it didn’t work for him because of that,” said Dr. Craig Buchman, an otolaryngology surgeon at UNC. Last summer, Buchman made Hale the first in a clinical trial to try a different implant that bypasses the cochlea, going straight to the hearing nucleus of the brain stem. During the procedure the electrodes are placed directly on the nucleus to stimulate it, Buchman said.   Full Story

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Samsung Product Searches TV Content Using Caption Data

February 2008

By interpreting closed captioning data, Samsung’s technology can automatically pull up Web content relevant to a TV show without a mouse or keyboard. Now that TV and the Internet are finally getting all cozy thanks to HTPCs, Web-enabled TVs, and streaming media boxes, Samsung is trying to help consumers take the next step in combining the two, by using TV programming to help round up relevant Web content. The company’s See’N’Search technology automatically scans TV programming for keywords and generates links that are accessible just by jumping to a different menu with the remote – no keyboard and mouse required.  The system harvests its information from channel guide information and closed-captioning metadata, then uses natural language technologies to sift the relevant words from the irrelevant ones and determine what a program is about. Consumers can pull up the automatically generated links on their TVs without any input of their own, and there are even options for zapping the data to other Wi-Fi connected devices rather than browsing it on the big screen.  Full Story