Say What? Designing an Earbud That Doesn’t Cause Hearing Loss

A former teenage rocker who’s been involved with the music industry in some shape or form for most of his adult life might seem like an unlikely candidate to help minimize hearing loss, but that’s precisely what Stephen Ambrose is doing with his new company.

Ambrose has enjoyed stints as a top 40 song writer and recording artist, and spent much of the 1970s working as a sound engineer for artists ranging from Stevie Wonder to Steve Miller. He was also the original inventor of the wireless in-ear monitor — the device that allows performers on stage to hear themselves above the noise of other musicians and the audience.

With his current company, Asius Technologies, Ambrose has continued his history of audio innovation by developing the Ambrose Diaphonic Ear Lens (ADEL): a new type of earpiece that solves the problem of hearing loss resulting from repeated earbud use. This pioneering creation designed with the use of Autodesk Product Design Suite software has led Asius and Ambrose to be named as the Autodesk December Inventor of the Month.

Normal in-ear headphones (like earbuds) seal the ear canal and trigger a defense mechanism in people’s ears called “the acoustic reflex” that dampens the sound by as much as 50 decibels. This results in listeners repeatedly turning up the volume on their listening devices, much to the detriment of their ears.

The ADEL uses small, balloon-like bags — made of a membranous, breathable material — that attach to the earpiece and inflate inside the ear to seal out unwanted noise without triggering the acoustic reflex. As a result, ADEL headphones can deliver a richer sound at one-quarter of the volume as conventional headphones.

ADEL Auto Insertion Ear Bud Editied

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Best of all, ADEL technology isn’t just limited to earbuds — it can also be applied to hearing aids and other devices to provide a more comfortable fit, richer sound quality and a safer listening experience. Additionally, the Ambrose Diaphonic Pump (ADP) that inflates the membranes can convert extreme forms of noise pollution into usable pneumatic energy. Ambrose's new sound-to-pneumatic-energy generator can be used for everything from harvesting the sound of a beating heart (to run a pacemaker or drug pump) to rendering unwanted noise into a new energy source.

ADEL Bubble and Valve1

Asius used Autodesk Inventor 3D design software as part of Product Design Suite to digitally prototype many of the ADEL components, including the microscopic valves and pumps that inflate the balloon-like, membranous ear lens.

“Designing a pump that mitigates and harvests the harmful pneumatic pressures generated by personal listening devices inside the human ear is no small feat,” said Ambrose. ”Using Inventor software, we could mock up the components in 3D, micro-machine them with our laser mill and then evolve the design within the course of a day — that’s a miracle!”

Just as important as the design process was the ability to communicate a new sound science as well as the benefits of the technology to a broad audience. A picture is worth a thousand words, and when communicating with investors or potential partners about in-ear pneumatic pressures or the new Ambrose Diaphonic Lens, the company was able to use simple 3D animations created in Autodesk Inventor Studio to explain its invention more easily.

A video clip demonstrating the ADEL technology can be viewed here. Go ahead and turn it up to 11 – you’re allowed to for this one.