Spatial hearing rendering in wireless microphone systems for binaural hearing aids

In 2015, 360 million people, including 32 million children, were suffering from hearing impairment all over the world. This makes hearing disability a major worldwide issue. In the US, the prevalence of hearing loss increased by 160% over the past generations. However, 72% of the 34 million impaired American persons (11% of the population) still have an untreated hearing loss. Among the various current solutions alleviating hearing disability, hearing aid is the only non-invasive and the most widespread medical apparatus. Combined with hearing aids, assisting listening devices are a powerful answer to address the degraded speech understanding observed in hearing-impaired subjects, especially in noisy and reverberant environments. Unfortunately, the conventional devices do not accurately render the spatial hearing property of the human auditory system, weakening their benefits. Spatial hearing is an attribute of the auditory system relying on binaural hearing. With 2 ears, human beings are able to localize sounds in space, to get information about the acoustic surroundings, to feel immersed in environments... Furthermore, it strongly contributes to speech intelligibility. It is hypothesized that recreating an artificial spatial perception through the hearing aids of impaired people might allow for recovering a part of these subjects' hearing performance. This thesis investigates and supports the aforementioned hypothesis with both technological and clinical approaches. It reveals how certain well-established signal processing methods can be integrated in some assisting listening devices. These techniques are related to sound localization and spatialization. Taking into consideration the technical constraints of current hearing aids, as well as the characteristics of the impaired auditory system, the thesis proposes a novel solution to restore a spatial perception for users of certain types of assisting listening devices. The achieved results demonstrate the feasibility and the possible implementation of such a functionality on conventional systems. Additionally, this thesis examines the relevance and the efficiency of the proposed spatialization feature towards the enhancement of speech perception. Via a clinical trial involving a large number of patients, the artificial spatial hearing shows to be well appreciated by disabled persons, while improving or preserving their current hearing abilities. This can be considered as a prominent contribution to the current scientific and technological knowledge in the domain of hearing impairment.

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