Geoffrey Ball has had sensorineural hearing loss ever since he had a serious fever attack when he was a child. He was fitted with conventional hearing aids and although those devices increased the loudness level, Ball was never satisfied with their sound quality. At the age of 15, he asked his ENT specialist about the prospects of receiving implantable hearing aids. He learned then that such devices were already being developed and might be available in five to ten years. What he didn't know, is that would be another 18 years before he would be fitted with implantable hearing aids that he himself had designed.
After completing his studies in engineering at the University of Oregon, Ball worked as a biomedical technician in a laboratory at the world-renowned Stanford University for eight years. He dealt with many fields of auditory research and realised that the vibrations in the human ear could be mimicked with a small signal transducer. Stimulation of the middle ear with mechanical vibrations rather than sound waves is called “direct drive”. For Ball, this knowledge was the driving force to search for an implantable hearing aid. He knew then that such a device would have many advantages since the auditory canal remains open with “direct drive”, feedback. Effects like occlusion or distortion are eliminated and the generated sound is natural.
In 1992, after further research, Ball was convinced that an electromagnetic signal transducer was the best choice for devices with direct drive. With this knowledge Ball spent his evenings in his own electronics laboratory, building and testing new signal transducers for direct drives. Late one night, after many failures, Ball stumbled upon a system with immediately obvious benefits. The efficiency of the transducer was much better compared to other approaches, while the surgical procedure would be relatively simple.
“Suddenly I knew. The design was so simple and solved so many problems ... I knew, that’s it;” remembers Ball.
After numerous new designs, Ball had his invention patented in 1993. Symphonix was founded and the transducer further improved, finally leading to the development of the Floating Mass Transducer (FMT), which is still used today.
Following approval of the middle ear implant in America, Geoffrey Ball was one of the first patients to receive a Vibrant Soundbridge.
Some time later he received a second implant on the other side.
As chief technical officer at Symphonix he dedicated his time to the further improvement of the middle ear implant. When Symphonix ended their business activity, MED-EL Innsbruck, Austria, took over the Vibrant Soundbridge in June 2003. Vibrant MED-EL Hearing Technology GmbH was established to market and develop the worldwide most successful middle ear implant and Geoffrey Ball joined the Vibrant MED-EL team as technical director. Today, Ball and his wife and three sons live near Innsbruck.
Geoffrey Ball’s determination has helped many people worldwide suffering from conductive and mixed hearing loss. His invention will continue to enable many people to hear life.
“My dream was a better quality of life for myself and for all who have to live with hearing loss," says Ball. "It is an indescribably good feeling to be able to help others who want to enjoy life in all its aspects like I do, who want to talk to family, friends and colleagues at work, which used to be impossible.”
In 2002 Geoffrey Ball received the Annunzio Award for Science and Medicine
(2nd place), in 2000 he was appointed Engineer of the Year for best design and won the Sci3 Silicon Valley entrepreneur award in 1998.