In spite of the success of cochlear implants, particularly with postlingually deafened individuals, tactile devices continue to be important tools for dealing with deafness for a variety of populations and for a variety of reasons. At present there are more then five different wearable tactile devices servicing these needs, and it has become increasingly evident that audiologists fitting them and technicians responsible for repairing and maintaining them are unable to deal effectively with the different designs because of the infrequency with which they encounter each type. A single reliable device which is programmable to enable simulation of all of the processing paradigms now being used and which utilizes a technology more similar to hearing aids, would go a long way to simplifying and improving their application and maintenance. Beyond this, it would enable a focused effort to rationalize and clarify the use of each of the different processing types as they apply to different populations. There is little doubt that this effort of rationalization is long over due. Also, the proposed design, which is based on a digital platform, would enable the evaluation of new processing methods and/or variations on existing ones, in a very convenient way by simply varying the programming.
The commercial potential of this work is to expand the use of tactile devices for the deaf. At present, limitations in support an distribution of these devices is limiting their use to less than 1% of the potential market.