One in six of the UK adult population is affected by hearing loss. Matthew Turner is one of them.
He has gone further than most to combat the difficulty he has hearing people on the phone. Matthew wanted to create a ‘hearing aid in the sky’ and so came up with Audacious. He describes the technology as ‘bridging enabling technology’ as it is a way of people with hearing loss to communicate with the rest of society.
Annabel: Now then me talking to you on the radio each day something a lot of us probably take for granted. The fact that we can hear someone else but one in six of the UK adult population is affected by hearing loss so making, I suppose, listening to the radio pretty difficult. Um, Matthew Turner, from Northampton is sat opposite me now and he was born with severe hearing loss. Morning Matthew.
Matthew: Good Morning
Annabel: So you have a hearing aid yeah?
Matthew: I wear two hearing aids
Annabel: And you’ve done that all your life?
Matthew: I’ve done it all my life
Annabel: And while you’re looking at me now you’re reading my lips as well?
Matthew: I’m lip reading as well as hearing yes. They compensate each other.
Annabel: Okay. So, um, a lot of people would have something like this and they would think yes okay I’ll get the hearing aids and you know, I’ll do it that way. You’ve gone a step further because talking on the phone is a nightmare yeah?
Matthew: Yes so I worked in many different countries and I had two young children so I was struggling to speak to the ones I loved and the mobile phone companies and the hearing aid companies weren’t really talking to each other. So I came up with the idea of Audacious to create a hearing aid in the sky which means that I can measure the hearing loss over the mobile phone, accurately, store that hearing loss in the network, the telecoms network. I can then take any call, any phone, anywhere in the world, process that live and deliver a personalised call to your natural ear, your hearing aid, your cochlear implant. So it’s personalised to you. So with Audacious we can do that and it’s a medically certified device and it’s the only one of it’s kind. But it took ten years so it’s been quite a long journey.
Annabel: It’s been a labour of love
Matthew: Kind of, I mean, it’s ironic really because I did it to talk to my children, and they’ve grown up now and of course I can’t talk to them because they’ve disappeared so you know. But it helps a lot of other people.
Annabel: So when you say it’s kind of a hearing aid in the sky. I mean, you’ve got a technical background, have you? So you can
Matthew: No, no. I’m a corporate financial background but I put together a team from the University of Cambridge, of Manchester, people far cleverer than I am. But we created this team, we created clinical trials we adapted those clinical trials to use the feedback so we ended up with about 90% of the people using our system getting clearer calls. So, for me it was quite interesting, it’s the idea of enabling people to communicate. The way we define, the way we communicate defines us as humans so for me it wasn’t just because I was deaf it was because I wanted to engage with wider society so it’s a sort of bridge enabling technology.
Annabel: Wow so was there a moment when you used it for the first time or has it been kind of a gradual thing?
Matthew: Well when I used it for the first time it was quite distinct so when you use hearing aids you hear with your brain, not with your ears so your brain is used to certain sounds like uh a speaker or a HiFi system or something. So when you actually hear the goshawk processed, the audacious processed sound you really do hear the difference. Obviously everybody is different, different people have different levels of hearing loss but the whole idea is it compensates for that hearing loss over the network so it’s not just your hearing loss we compensate for the phone, we compensate for noise in the network so there’s a whole range of sort of very clever stuff going on in the background but the user doesn’t need to know that. They just do a hearing test, stored that on the audacious website and then that’s it. You can do it that way
Annabel: And you’re based here in Northampton? And now it’s sold all over the world is it?
Matthew: Well at the moment we’re just in the UK and the Isle of Man, very successful on the Isle of Man and the UK, Rob and his team at Audacious in the University building are doing a great job. Internationally we’ve had interest from Switzerland, Germany, France, Greek Islands, Australia. It’s a wide interest because an ageing population – people are deaf, people need to communicate. Younger people are becoming deafer because they listen to all kinds of music I don’t really begin to understand. So it’s an enabling technology but it’s a humane sort of technology it’s about engaging with people and allowing them to communicate.
Annabel: Is it, um, I mean this might be a bit of a weird question but is it easier to have a hearing problem now than it is when you were younger? Because I would imagine that you know, a lot of people when you were younger didn’t know much about it?
Matthew: No, so I was born with jaundice so a kind of blood poisoning so I had a lot of blood transfusions very early on and that damaged my hearing. So I was five before my parents realised I was deaf they just thought I was somewhat retarded because I couldn’t speak properly, I couldn’t follow instructions and then I got hearing aids at the age of five. Very large box hearing aids, but then as technology evolved I was about 40 when I got the digital hearing aids and I can remember going out and trying them for the first time and hearing quite a loud noise in the background and I turned to my sister and said “well what’s that noise?” and she said “it’s birds” and all I remember is what a racket they made, it’s the first time I’d really heard birds so digital technology is a huge step forward and really what I’ve done is take that digital technology that digital circuitry if you like and put it into a telecoms network with Audacious and it’s just that simple, sounds simple but it’s actually quite complicated, well conceptually it is.
Annabel: What’s the trickiest thing for you? Someone who uses a hearing aid and has hearing problems. I know a few people who have got hearing problems and they hate going to a busy restaurant, you know, and they always look about where they can sit because of, you know, being able to hear when there’s a big crowd. What’s the most frustrating thing for you?
Matthew: I mean that’s a very good example so background noise and hearing aids and pubs, for me as a sort of severe to profoundly deaf person, going to pubs, restaurants, discos- you can’t, you end up smiling and just hoping that someone you know smiling and somebody’s died or something because you’re always trying to double guess what’s going on. So it’s the background noise which is the hardest.
Annabel: Yeah. Well, it sounds like you’ve done something very positive for it, so thank you very much for coming on.
Matthew: You’re welcome thanks for having me.
Annabel: Nice to meet you. Matthew Turner then from Northampton who’s got this. We’ve got all the details here so if this is something that you are interested in the company is Audacious, if you put it into google but it’s based at the Innovation centre here in Northampton so good stuff.