That's where bionic ear cuffs come in. TCAPS, or Tactical Communication and Protective System, is a device that protects soldiers' hearing while helping them maintain awareness of their surroundings. TCAPS analyzes every incoming sound, then amplifies the quietest ones—for example, conversation with a fellow soldier—and turns down the loudest ones, such as the blast of an IED. On top of that, they also broadcast radio communications. The cuffs are small enough to wear comfortably under a helmet, so a soldier could probably wear them all day without any drawbacks. So far, about 20,000 TCAPS devices have been deployed in the field since 2014, mostly to Special Operations forces. In fact, the Navy SEALs who stormed Osama Bin Laden's compound in 2011 were wearing TCAPS, according to author Mary Roach. Learn more about the devices in the videos below.
Though hearing loss is a problem for everyone, avoiding it is easier for civilians: if you know you'll be in a loud environment, just pop in some earplugs and you're good to go. Soldiers, on the other hand, don't know when they'll be exposed to loud sounds, since explosives go off and firefights break out without warning. That's one reason 1 in 5 U.S. soldiers suffer from hearing loss. Keeping earplugs in at all times isn't an option, since the majority of a soldier's day is spent quietly and earplugs have the undesirable side effect of muffling everything, not just the loudest sounds. The problem gets even more dire when you think about the fact that the loudest military environments, like the aforementioned firefight, are the ones where good communication is most essential.
Tactical Communication And Protective System (TCAPS)
Learn all about this groundbreaking technology.
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How Bionic Ear Cuffs Could Save Hospitals $1 Million
Author Mary Roach explains how TCAPS technology could save both soldiers and taxpayers.
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Hearing Loss Is Way More Common Than You Think
It's not just a problem for the military.