Researchers from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have designed a proto-type system-on-chip (SoC) that could provide an alternative to cochlear implants.

The researchers will present their findings on 11 February 2014 at the IEEE International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco.

The new, low-power signal-processing chip requires no external hardware and it could be wirelessly recharged once daily from an implantable battery.

The aesthetic aspect of an invisible cochlear implant eliminates the difficulties raised in some individuals with social stigma and limited use in the shower or during water sports.

The device depends on a sound sensor located in the middle ear so that the user can benefit from directional cues provided by the auricle and ear canal.

Massachusetts Eye and Ear otologist Dr Konstantina Stankovic, who co-led the study with Dr Anantha Chandrakasan, MIT head of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science said the conventional cochlear implants detect sound by a microphone located outside of the ear so that important directional cues are lost.

"Our long-term goal is to develop a fully implantable cochlear implant. To facilitate that development, we have developed the SoC and tested it in ears of human cadavers," Dr Stankovic added.