The message is coming through loud and clear: work-related hearing loss is distressing on a personal level and costing the country billions of dollars. One man has an answer. Listen Up.
WORDS DEBORAH TARRANT
Five years ago, Justin Miller was scouting around for The Next Big Thing. He found it in a refrigerator-sized container in a university research lab: a nascent technology that suppressed background noise and allowed the human voice to be heard clearly. His discovery dovetailed with the realization that hearing loss is at almost epidemic proportions.
The then Perth-based businessman (who had co-founded Australian software and services company Empired) saw his findings could revolutionize conditions for workers such as miners, who risked hearing loss but still had to work in noisy environments. The idea was refined, fitting software with low-powered batteries into earmuffs and plugs. Miller, 40, liaised with industry to ensure his Sensear technology met workers' needs, wooed investors, and built a team to take the product to market. Now based in San Fransisco, Sensear is a global operation that, despite still being classified as a small business, is capitalizing on its "first mover" advantage.
Sensear has hundreds of clients in manufacturing, transport, aviation, and the military across the world. Qantas ground crews were among the first to use Sensear technology. Miller says its range of products, using the same core technology, is made in Australia for quality assurance purposes. "We want to be sure our 100,000th product is the same as the first."
In four years he has achieved what aspiring entrepreneurs dream about. According to the World Health Organistation, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the world's greatest occupational illness, and its incidence is on the rise.