Mining Contract: Mine Hearing and Communication Safety System

Contract # 75D30122C14721
Start Date 9/1/2022
Research Concept

Despite decades of work, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is still one of the leading health and safety concerns in the mining industry. As noted in a 2019 study, overall, 24% of all mineworkers have a hearing impairment and more than half of all mineworkers have a hearing impairment by age 56. Yet, NIHL is completely preventable with the use of appropriate noise controls and hearing protection. However, existing passive hearing protection products (e.g., earplugs, earmuffs, or both) can be bulky or cumbersome and limit communication by blocking out sound indiscriminately. These issues lead to degraded communication and reduced situational awareness or poor compliance (i.e., workers remove hearing protection to talk). Existing hearing protection products using “active” acoustic attenuation to cancel or suppress noise have begun to address some of the communication concerns by passing through vocalizations, but recent technical advances offer the potential for significant improvement over systems currently in use. Lastly, both passive and active existing products suffer from the occlusion effect—the sensation of increased loudness from self-generated sounds (e.g., vocalization, breathing, walking) due to greater sound pressure level, especially in the low frequencies, when the ears are covered, which again leads to degraded communication and poor intelligibility.

To address these issues, in collaboration with 3M, Triton Systems proposes to develop a new product—“MineEar”—which would offer superior awareness, communication, and hearing protection through passive and active noise attenuation, occlusion effect reduction technology, and advanced active noise reduction. The proposed design features an in-ear form factor with a small external control module. The design will meet federal regulations that require certain products to be intrinsically safe/permissible for use in environments such as underground coal and gassy underground metal mines.

This novel system has the potential to significantly reduce background noise, enhance speech intelligibility, and provide superior communication quality. Further, because it does not require a face mask or air respirator, it would not interfere with either.

Topic Area

Contract Status & Impact

This contract is ongoing. For more information on this contract, send a request to

Under this contract, Triton Systems will develop the MineEar product by way of the tasks detailed below.

  1. Meet with NIOSH to discuss and agree upon design requirements. Design sketches will be used to elicit preliminary feedback. Key factors to be addressed include function, form factor, user experience, and cost.
  2. Design a system to fulfill all the functional requirements, benchmarking competitive products if necessary. Informal user feedback will also be solicitated to identify and overcome the unique challenges experienced in the mining environment.
  3. Design and refine the conceptual product through as many iterations as needed to finalization.
  4. Using appropriate modeling and analyzing software tools, Triton will design, analyze, and build the mechanical, acoustical, electrical, and signal processing components of the MineEar. Initial prototypes will be made for testing and validation, with these activities conducted at Triton’s Acoustics lab. The tests will include noise measurement, noise attenuation, communication and speech intelligibility, and robustness.
  5. The final design with full functionalities will be integrated and tested into a final prototype.

Based on the success of the prototype demonstration to show the capabilities of the developed product, commercialization of the MineEar may be pursued. Based on past successes with product commercialization and marketing, Triton has identified a clear path to commercialization for MineEar by way of partnership with the 3M Personal Safety Division, which is a well-established designer, manufacturer, and supplier of hearing protection solutions for the manufacturing, construction, defense, and public safety markets. Through this collaboration, Triton anticipates a business model that will license the MineEar technology to 3M. Triton will also work closely with NIOSH during advanced development efforts to refine the design and identify critical readiness issues that must be addressed to satisfy specialized mining user requirements.

Page last reviewed: June 15, 2023
Page last updated: June 13, 2023