ST, Soundchip, and AT&S cooperate on “bionic” hearing function module

September 17, 2014 // By Graham Prophet
AT&S, advanced packaging solutions specialist; Soundchip SA, a Swiss-based company active in wearable sound technology, and STMicroelectronics have worked together on a 'bionic' hearing module that, when installed into a personal audio device, delivers a wearable sound environment controlled at the ear by the wearer and software intelligence.

The combined skills span packaging design, electro-acoustics, MEMS sensors/micro-actuators,

and microprocessor technology to produce a smart, sensor-rich in-ear audio module. Personal audio devices, such as an MP3 player or smartphone, equipped with the bionic hearing module, provide wearers with the ability to electronically “open” and “close” their ears to ambient sound conditions, or even to augment ambient sound with programmed audio from a connected smart device. This capability can fully protect wearers from noise in situations where the ambient sound is too loud, or to open the ear for natural conversation with others, without having to remove the audio device, suffer from the discomfort of occlusion, or worse, the pain of loud noise.

The bionic hearing module integrates a broad spectrum of advanced electronics to further enhance the on-the-go audio experience, including head-tracking and other sensing, to enable new features, including augmented-audio guidance and biometric monitoring.

The multi-mode audio capabilities of the bionic hearing module are enabled through the use of HD-PA technology developed by Soundchip. Their implementation in a compact form factor is made possible through the use of Soundstrate technology, which enables the efficient combination of electronic, acoustic, and transmission means within a single, compact mechanical structure.

The semiconductor components in the bionic hearing module comprise the latest Motion and Audio MEMS components from STMicroelectronics, an HD-PA-compliant Audio Engine for zero-latency sound processing, and an ultra-low-power STM32 MCU ARM Cortex-M-core microcontrollers.

The module's packaging employs ECP (Embedded Component Packaging) and 2.5D PCB technology from AT&S, which is capable of integrating acoustic, electroacoustic, passive and active electronic components with efficiency, providing module dimensions suited to the comfort and size constraints of in-ear operation, and compatible with most existing in-ear-type personal audio devices.

“Enabling bionic hearing demands the interconnection of robust and reliable high-performance silicon components within a complex structure—that must be comfortable to wear. By combining our leading MEMS and micro-processing devices with complementary solutions from Soundchip and AT&S,