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Online ear defenders that protect workers win prize for UWL scientist

Internet of Things schematics

Noisy workplaces promise to become safer spaces thanks to an invention by a UWL academic which has just won a design prize.

Dr Ying Zhang, senior lecturer in Computer Science at the University’s School of Computing and Engineering, has devised ear defenders which can dampen background noise, while amplifying important sounds such as speech and alarms or sirens. 

The twin benefits of Dr Zhang’s design: amplifying significant sounds while simultaneously dampening noise which causes hearing damage or loss, propelled it to victory in an online poll by Farnell element14, a British electronic components company which distributes components across the globe under the Premier Farnell parent brand. Powered by the Internet of Things (IoT), the technology promises to provide effective communication between co-workers and protect workers’ hearing without compromising on safety.

Members of Premier Farnell’s online community, element14 – which comprises half a million members - voted it the winner from three finalists selected by the company from all entries. The prize is £5,000 worth of parts and components to build the design and also a test-and-measurement bundle from Rhode and Schwarz, for UWL to use in Internet of Things projects.

DDr Ying Zhangr Zhang said: ‘I was very happy to be shortlisted for the final, so to win the competition is fantastic. Current ear defenders block noise, but also block warnings too, so people cannot communicate wearing ear defenders. I hope this IoT-enabled headset will be prototyped and ultimately help millions of workers who work in noisy, industrial environments. Thank you very much to the University of West London for empowering me to do this research and for supporting this project.’

BSc (Hons) Computing at UWL is ranked as one of the top two such courses in London by overall score in the Guardian Guide 2019, which also ranks the course as one of the top three in the UK for student satisfaction and feedback. BSc (Hons) degrees in Computer Science, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and Applied Sound Engineering courses have received accreditation from the prestigious Institution of Engineering and Technology. 

Professor Amir Alani, Head of the School of Computing and Engineering, said: ‘We believe this is a good achievement which is going to lead to more development and we believe Dr Zhang’s design can make a positive impact in the field. Receiving so many votes from the public demonstrates the strength of Dr Zhang’s project. At UWL, we value Innovative research with practical applications and this design is a great example.’

Find out more about the School of Computing and Engineering. Check out the School on Twitter: @UWL_SCE