Douglas Hart, a mechanical engineering professor at MIT, adapted technology he originally developed for dentistry to scan the shape of the ear canal. Because the procedure is relatively fast and easy compared to traditional silicone method, it may not only improve the fitting of hearing aids but may also lead to customized ear buds for your audio player.
From MIT press office:
With the new MIT system, a very stretchy, balloon-like membrane is inserted into the ear canal and inflated to take the shape of the canal. The membrane is filled with a fluorescent dye that can be imaged with a tiny fiber-optic camera inside the balloon. Scanning the canal takes only a few seconds, and the entire fitting process takes only a minute or two.
Because the camera captures 3-D images so quickly, it can measure how much the surface of the ear canal deforms when the pressure changes, or how the canal shape changes when the wearer chews or talks. That could help hearing-aid manufacturers design devices that keep their tight seal in those situations.
The researchers have built a prototype scanner to demonstrate the proof of concept, and are now working on a handheld version of the device. Once it’s ready, they plan to do a study comparing the fit of hearing aids built with the new scanner to that of traditional hearing aids.