An earplug with a built-in computer that allows speech to pass but shuts out unwanted and hazardous noise will make life easier in noisy environments.
The basic technology in the QUIETPRO earplug was developed at SINTEF ICT .The earplug comprises a miniature loudspeaker and both internal and external microphones. The inner microphone measures the noise in the ear. The earplug shuts out the noise but allows speech to pass, thanks to the electronics built into a microchip. In quiet surroundings the sounds that we wish to hear are allowed past, but in a noisy environment, the system shuts out the noise, allowing only speech to pass. The electronics are built into a tiny chip. In combination with a radio, the system is a complete communications terminal for use in noisy environments.
One of the main principles of the earplug is that sounds are not attenuated more that necessary, so that the user does not feel that he is acoustically shut off from his surroundings. When it is quiet, QUIETPRO is completely "transparent," with the result that the user can hold a normal conversation. The system has been designed for continuous use, ensuring that hearing is always protected and that messages reach the user whether they arrive via direct acoustic channels, a public-address system or the radio.
The user's voice is captured in the ear canal, virtually free of noise. This is used for radio communication, so neither a hand-held microphone or microphone clip in front of the mouth, are required. QUIETPRO also functions as a "hands-free" terminal for most types of radio unit.
The Nacre technology company was set up in 1994 in order to commercialize the earplug. The earplug was tested in the laboratory, in real-life noisy environments and in conjunction with military communications systems. The Norwegian and Swedish armed forces provided financial support for the development of the system. Noise from artillery, personal firearms and tanks has been included in the test programme, and the versions of QUIETPRO now available on the market have mainly been developed for military purposes.
In 2006, Nacre won a contract to supply QUIETPRO communications terminals and hearing protectors to the US Marines. The contract was worth more than NOK 200 million, and is regarded as the definitive commercial breakthrough for the company, which now in 2010 has 20 employees.
In 2007, the French company Bacou-Dalloz (now Sperian Protection) bought Nacre for about NOK 750 million. The sale is the biggest ever of a SINTEF spin-off. Nacre continues to operate from Trondheim.
QUIETPRO functions equally well alongside a production line, in a machine room on board ship or in a military tank. It can be used on offshore platforms, in police operations or by fire-fighters.
Statoil, Nacre and SINTEF have during the last four years had a close cooperation to develop a civilian version of QUIETPRO especially adapted for offshore use. According to Statoil as a new user, the introduction of the earplug represents an entirely new paradigm in the quest to protect the employees from noise -- included hearing loss.
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