THE PROBLEM: Roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population are deaf or hard of hearing. This means they can't hear the voices of actors, teachers, museum docents, sports announcers, public transport announcements, even the pastor preaching a sermon in their church. Captioning is typically only available in select movie theaters and only for certain TV shows. The result is a lack of informational access for those with hearing problems.
THE SOLUTION: The new wearable captioning system makes use of the standard wireless protocols already in place in many venues, including baseball stadiums, coffee shops and restaurants. Captions are sent by the venue's transmitter via a wireless radio signal to a receiver device, such as a personal data assistant (PDA) or wireless-enabled laptop computer. Patrons can also use a micro display that plugs into a PDA and attached to their glasses or is worn on a headband. The screen will appear to float several feet away, with the text seemingly overlaid on the user's field of vision. A similar technology is used in the military: Heads-Up Displays for fighter jet pilots.
BENEFITS: The new captioning system can transmit multiple text streams and can also be used for language translation since its software is internationally compatible. Even those whose hearing is not impaired could find it useful: the system can transmit optional information, such as statistics at a sporting event.
WHERE TO FIND IT: The prototype technology has just been licensed by a company located in the Atlanta metropolitan area, Peacock Communications Inc.
CAUSES OF HEARING LOSS: Causes vary, but hearing loss in children can result from infections in the middle ear. Fluid builds up, obstructing sound, and the pressure can perforate or tear the eardrum -- which can usually be repaired through surgery. In adults, the most common cause of hearing loss occurs when the third bone in the middle ear (called the stapes) blocks the transmission of sound waves to the inner ear. There is also noise-induced hearing loss, resulting from exposure to high sound levels, including industrial noise, gunshots, and rock concerts. One of the earliest signs of hearing loss is tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.