Martijn Agterberg in zijn bijenlab
Martijn Agterberg in zijn bijenlab

NWO Take-off grant for hearing implants that are able to localise sound

Beephonix, the start-up of neuroscientist and audiologist Martijn Agterberg, has been awarded a NWO take-off grant of €250,000 to optimise a microphone technology inspired by the hearing of bumblebees.

With the grant, Agterberg and his team want to show that the prototype of their hearing implants can determine the direction speech signals are coming from and show that it succeeds in filtering speech signals from background noise. This should allow people who are hard of hearing to be able to understand speech better using this hearing implant.

Conductive hearing loss

Martijn Agterberg has been studying conductive hearing loss for over 15 years. The sound waves do not reach the inner ear from the outer and middle ear in people with conductive hearing loss, because these patients do not have an auricle or auditory duct. With the cochlear implants that are on the market right now, these patients can hear, but they cannot hear where the sound is coming from (sound localisation), which causes problems, especially in busy situations. 

Agterberg: "In a busy environment, where multiple people are talking and there's background noise, people with a hearing implant might struggle to hold a conversation with someone. The hearing implant doesn't know who you want to listen to, and doesn't know which signals needs to be amplified. We think we have found the solution for this problem, by making an implant that can localise sound."

Martijn Agterberg in imkerpak in close up

Broadband signals

Inspired by the way of hearing of (bumble)bees, Agterberg research ways of increasing the directional sensitivity of hearing aids. Agterberg built a prototype, financed by an earlier grant. The result: the prototype worked 5 to 10 times better than the current hearing implants in hearing pure tones. Using the new Take-off 2 grant, Agterberg wants to prove that his prototype can also precisely determine the direction of broadband signals, such as speech. If he succeeds, these speech signals can be filtered from background noise and be amplified. Patients with conductive hearing loss should be able to understand speech significantly better. 


Next to Agterberg, the research team is made up of an audiologist, an engineer, and an entrepreneur. Agterberg would like to add a doctor to the team. "I think it's important to have an interdisciplinary team. This prevents you from developing tunnel vision. I would also like to market this innovation, for which different knowledge and skills are needed than I have as a scientist. Thankfully, colleagues of Radboud Innovation Science help me with this."

Martijn Agterberg bestudeert een hommel

Measuring method

"Next to being a researcher, I also work as an audiologist in the hospital of Utrecht and the Radboud Medical Centre. I noticed that the current measuring method does not accurately reflect how well a patient can hear with their hearing implants. Right now, the hearing is measured for each ear, but in real life you use both your ears to listen. So it should also be measured this way. We would like to introduce our new method to the clinical practice. This allows us to better help patients with hearing loss  and we can accurately test if our implant does work better than the current implants on the market", according to Agterberg. 

More information

Contact information

More information? martijn.agterberg [at] (Please contact Martijn Agterberg)

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