Tech fund boosts Binghamton inventors

November 05, 2012

BINGHAMTON, NY -- Binghamton University researcher Ron Miles invented a tiny directional microphone -- suitable for use in hearing aids -- that filters out unwanted sounds. Now, with help from the SUNY Technology Accelerator Fund, he hopes to bring the idea to the marketplace.

Technology for the hearing-impaired is hardly perfect. The small microphones contained within hearing aids do a good job of boosting volume, but that can be a problem in a noisy restaurant as background sounds get boosted as much as your dinner date's conversation. Miles used a tiny structure found in the ear of a fly, Ormia ochracea, as a model to develop the world's smallest directional microphones.

His research received several million dollars in funding from the National Institutes of Health nearly a decade ago, but that money was focused on scientific discovery and not on the development of a commercial product. Last year, the Research Foundation for the State University of New York (RF) supported development of the technology with $50,000 from the SUNY Technology Accelerator Fund (TAF). Now, Miles has earned an additional $100,000 from the fund to develop his microphone in a market-strategic way. Binghamton University will match that $100,000, providing additional resources to advance this research.

"As part of the review process, the RF team did a marketing study to determine potential markets for licensing and commercialization," Miles says. "We ended up modifying our design to improve the marketability of our technology. By using a more conventional sensing scheme, it should be easier to commercialize."

"Dr. Miles' work is a perfect example of the real-world impact of SUNY research," says Timothy Killeen, president of the RF and SUNY vice chancellor for research. "Ground-breaking research is being conducted by SUNY faculty and students across New York State. Our job is to provide the support that facilitates the advancement of invention to produce commercially viable technologies that serve the public good and trigger entrepreneurial and economic opportunity. Congratulations to Dr. Miles and his Binghamton University team."

The Research Foundation launched the TAF in April 2011 to support innovation across the SUNY research community and to provide proof-of-concept funding for SUNY's most promising technologies. In its first year, the fund produced two licensing agreements and three startup companies.

The TAF also recently announced first-round funding for an additional six projects proposed by SUNY researchers. Proposals were evaluated by the TAF managing director with input from external experts. The technologies selected include advancements in areas ranging from antibiotics to suicide prevention. Binghamton University bioengineer Kenneth McLeod had one of the winning proposals, with a plan to develop a personalized heating system that is designed to save energy while allowing people to manage their weight by maintaining a consistent body heat balance.

"Smart" micro-environmental systems keep employees in heat balance in the typical office environment. An infra-red based system heats people inside rooms in a building rather than blindly heating all spaces equally, whether occupied or not. Individuals obtain the comfort level they desire, resulting in improved productivity and decreased building operational costs. This "green" technology would reduce the energy needed to operate buildings, which accounts for 45 percent of all energy use in the U.S.

An equally important aspect of "radiant people heating" is that it triggers weight loss, McLeod says. This secondary benefit may provide even larger economic benefits to employers, employees and society. Building operators, engineers and architects can deploy micro-environmental control technology systematically to increase the economic and energy sustainability of their projects -- and keeping people in buildings both comfortable and healthy.
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Binghamton University

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