Revolve is my master thesis project, developed through 2009-2010 as a student in Product Development at the University of Antwerp. The project was done in collaboration with Bernie Caessens and Bart Volckaerts from the Cochlear Technology Centre in Mechelen. Cochlear Ltd. is the world market leader in cochlear implants.
Cochlear implants restore the hearing of deaf people by directly stimulating the auditory nerves. A speech processor behind the ear picks up sound waves from the surroundings and transmits them wirelessly to an implant using magnetic induction. The implant translates those signals into electrical pulses that are sent to an electrode that sits inside the cochlea. It is the first bionic device that can restore a human sense to a usable quality.
The Revolve system is a flexible architecture that can be expanded with next generation technologies. Because of its modular construction, components can be switched out, making the device smaller and less visible. Users can add features and upgrade their system by swapping modules. Revolve makes it easier and cheaper to implement future innovations by building on a solid and expandable platform. This way, users can enjoy the benefits of technological breakthroughs before the end of life of their device.
By using universal connectors modules can be easily swapped out. Teflon-coated titanium bayonet-clasps protect the electrical contacts and provide a robust connection that is dust and water proof. These form the connections between modules and enables the future upgradability.
In the short term the transmit coil is integrated in the processor and is used as a hinge. This provides a degree of freedom that makes it adaptable to the ears of the wide range of users. Later, the transmit coil can be moved and replaced by a small battery module with a wireless transmitter.
When new technologies become available, they can be integrated by replacing the modules. In the midlong term the transmitting coil can be moved to the shoulder area, making the speech processor behind the ear much smaller. The coil is placed on the skin beneath the collarbone using a silicone patch, where it will communicatie wirelessly with the processor. In the long term, the coil can be removed completely, when data transmission to the implant will be done using RF waves.
The upgrade cycle for medical implants is currently determined by the reimbursement schedule of the patient's health insurance. Because of the high price of these types of systems, an upgrade happens around every 10 years. This slow upgrade cycle makes it difficult to take advantage of the accelerating technological progress in the medical implant field. Innovations that would benefit users greatly therefore only reach them with a delay of many years.
Revolve tries to shortcut this delay by making the implant platform evolve in step with the rapid technological progress by making it possible to replace and upgrade modules. This makes for an adaptable system with improved performance, durability and comfort.