3DTV for Your Ear Canal?

Lantos Technologies demonstrated how simple and relatively discomfort-free it is to take an impression of the average person’s ear canal with their new 3D digital ear scanning technology. Taking an accurate and complete impression of the ear canal is incredibly important when it comes to making custom earpieces for hearing aids, noise protection, and custom audio (i.e., high-performance earbud-style headphones). The traditional process of taking an ear canal impression involves examining the ear canal, inserting an otocblock into the ear canal to protect the tympanic membrane from harm, and then filling the ear canal with an pliable impression material that takes about five to ten minutes to solidify before it can be removed. (Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?) The Lantos technology uses
emission re-absorption laser induced fluorescence (ERLIF) [and] was developed by Dr. Douglas Hart at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Using the intensity measurement of two different wavelength bands of fluorescent light as they travel through an absorbing medium, ERLIF generates a highly accurate 3D map. The medium selectively absorbs one wavelength band over the other, thus the intensity ratio of the two wavelengths as they travel through the medium can be measured using a standard camera…
During a sparsely attended press conference at CES, Lantos representatives demonstrated the process using the Lantos Scanner, which is a small, handheld device that includes a fiberscope enclosed in a conforming membrane. Once gently inserted in the ear canal, the membrane is expanded and conforms to the shape of the ear canal. As the fiberscope is retracted, it creates a 3D image of the ear canal in real time – with the entire process taking less than two minutes per ear. The resulting scan is typically much more accurate than the standard impression technique provides and has the advantage of immediately being available as a digital data file that can be sent electronically to a manufacturer.

Currently it’s somewhat expensive (>$100), time-consuming, and often uncomfortable to go to an audiologist who can make a custom ear canal impression which can be sent to an earphone manufacturer (such as Etymotic) in order to create an individually customized earbud insert. Once FDA-approved in the US, the Lantos 3D Digital Ear Scanner promises to make customized earpieces much more widely available.