Feb 2018 The ChronicleHerald.ca
Guy Earle is a standup comedian with a huge ambition: He hopes to change the way we diagnose hearing loss. Earle is the president of Halifax-based IObIO, which is building a portable device called the BioBox. The box captures and analyses data for clinical and scientific research and can be customised for different industries by using external plug-ins. It would reduce costs and improve flexibility in the way we determine whether someone has a hearing problem. Earle, who describes himself as a “mad scientist,” is designing the tech with the help of two Halifax doctors, Manohar Bance and Steve Aiken. Together they plan to figure out how his invention can reform auditory diagnostics.
The current practice of diagnosing hearing loss is quite outdated, said Earle. A device called an audiogram is normally used to test patients’ sensitivity to certain frequencies. “There is more to it than that. There is frequency discrimination, cochlear inner ear issues that can’t be identified with (an audiogram),” said Earle. “The technology basically hasn’t changed since World War II so doctors are diagnosing (hearing loss) after the fact.” Hearing loss can be detected through MRIs and CT scans but the equipment is bulky and costly. Not only would Earle’s invention cut costs and save time for both the doctor and the patient, but the box is also portable and customisable.
“We combine audio acoustic and electrode physiological paradigms in one system, and that hasn’t been done before,” he said. “This allows us to look way deeper than the standard auditory assessment practices.”
Earle got his technical know-how at Dalhousie University, where he studied experimental physics. He is also a certified LabVIEW developer via National Instruments.
IObIO started three years ago as a custom automation development company. Earle would develop custom tech for his clients but when he met Bance and Aiken, he started developing the BioBox. “The BioBox lets us custom-make complex testing protocols much more cheaply than any existing technologies for fast innovation and test thinking,” said Bance, the chief medical officer for IObIO. Bance is currently conducting research in England, studying the effects of hearing loss with the British Armed Forces.
Hearing issues are the most common, and subsequently the most costly, ailment among members of the military. Earle hopes that Bance’s research and collaboration with the military will be IObIO’s point of entry into the market of custom medical devices. Aiken, an audiologist and the CEO of IObIO, did initial research on the Auditory Response Toolkit, a guide to determine levels of hearing loss.
On top of building new inventions, Earle is also a standup comedian. He admits that he’s not really a marketing guy but years of standup routines makes him comfortable when pitching his product. “They go hand in hand really, in terms of getting out there and trying to promote yourself.” With the help of $25,000 in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Engage program, Earle has built the hardware portion of his device. Now he needs to set up the software. “We built the box and now I need to code it — which is no easy task,” said Earle. IObIO is currently searching for places where it can beta-test the BioBox.