What are cochlear implants?Cochlear implants are electrical devices that restore hearing to people who are born without hearing or lose their hearing over time.
Why hack the cochlear implant?
Cochlear implants are devices that allow some deaf people to hear sounds by overriding the innate hearing mechanisms of the ear. While cochlear implants can restore or improve hearing, users may experience difficulty, especially with hearing speech in a noisy environment and enjoying music.
The CI Hackathon was born from an idea that getting fresh perspectives could lead to innovation and improvement for current solutions. The CI Hackathon ranked entries based on their performance in four sound categories: a series of three unrelated one-syllable words, natural speech, speech in a noisy background, and music across a wide range of styles.
A completely virtual environment
Traditionally, hackathons are held as in-person, weekend-long contests in which participants regularly pull all-nighters. What made this hackathon unique was that it was conducted entirely online via a web-based application, as necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Asynchronous delivery via an online application enabled geographically diverse teams to participate with fewer time constraints. This constraint ultimately proved to be beneficial since improving the quality of cochlear implant algorithms is a difficult task, especially for contestants who had never worked in the field. Contestants were given eight weeks to learn how current cochlear implants and CI algorithms work, implement their own changes to the processing pipeline, test algorithms with training data, and submit entries. From December 2020 through January 2021, teams refined their research, after which final submissions were judged in three rounds, with only top contestants progressing to each successive round. The first two rounds were judged using crowd-sourcing by the participants and the general public listening to entrants’ sounds online and rating them. The final round was an interview with the CI Hackathon judging panel.
The CI Hackathon achieved its goal of sparking an interest in cochlear implant research and bettering the hearing of those who use cochlear implants. The organizing team intends to share results of this hackathon and make them publicly available through publication in conjunction with the participants that produced top results.
This year was the inaugural year for the CI Hackathon, and because it was such a successful endeavor, the organizing team hopes to make this a recurring event.