Manchester Metropolitan University student’s 3D earbud concept fights disability stigma

A critically acclaimed concept for 3D printed wireless earbuds – designed for people of all hearing abilities – could enhance user’s hearing and help tackle stigma around disability and traditional hearing aids.

Devised by Elen Parry, HeX earbuds are audio headphones that double us as an advanced hearing device, from which everyone can benefit. Elen is a student on Manchester Metropolitan University’s innovative MSc Industrial Digitalisation course and the recipient of the Autodesk Women in Leadership Scholarship.

Users of HeX earbuds would be able to increase or decrease the volume of their environment, protecting them against hearing loss, extending hearing ability, and enabling control over what they actually hear.

According to the concept, an advanced chip that receives and processes sound signals would differentiate between background noise and the noise you want to hear.

The device could be produced easily on a large scale – thanks to the opportunities opened up by 3D printing and connected manufacturing systems – and the silicone earbuds would be personalised and printed to fit any shape or size of ear exactly.

HeX earbuds were the top pick of the Design Council at New Designers 2018, as chosen by their Chief Executive, Sarah Weir.

‘My mission is to encourage social inclusion through my designs, to create improved situations for everyone,’ commented Elen.

‘The driving principle behind creating HeX earbuds was to create a hearing device that is for everyone – whether you live with hearing loss or perfect hearing.

People with disabilities often feel excluded and conspicuous because of their medical devices, so I want to transform hearing aids into a desirable, wearable tech product that gives people enhances hearing, style and confidence – something that anyone might want to wear.

3D printing enables us to manufacture then quickly and relatively simply, so HeX earbuds can be easily produced for a mass audience.’

The earbuds would offer the latest connective technologies to make them a desirable device for a mass market, no matter the users’ hearing ability.

Embedded Bluetooth, infrared and motion technology would allow users to connect with other devices – for taking phone calls or streaming music, for example – on the go.

A hexagonal design provides a natural multi-directional hearing experience, so that the user can hear and process a wide range of sounds.

A prototype of the earbuds has been produced at Print City, Manchester Metropolitan’s advanced 3D printing and digital manufacturing hub, which can produce virtually anything through additive manufacturing, and is open to both researchers and industry.

Print City’s academic lead, Professor Craig Banks, said: ‘This is one of many examples of how additive manufacturing and out-of-the box thinking by Elen disrupts the current design of medical devices.’

With a vision to be at the forefront of cutting-edge technology, HeX aims to incorporate the latest projected technology of rechargeable graphene batteries to power the earbuds, with dual connectivity strips for fast charging.

Hear from Elen Parry at the Industry 4.0 Summit on Wednesday 10 April 2019, where she will be part of the panel discussion ‘Upskilling for Industry 4.0’.

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