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Lantos 3D ear mapping: much cooler than you think

A technology originally invented for scanning the inside of your mouth might lead to better-fitting earbuds and hearing aids, thanks to Lantos, which just announced a new chief executive, Jeffrey C. Leathe, along with a $4.1 million second round of funding.

Traditionally, if you need an image of your ear canal a doctor pours silicon gel into your ear, which expands and hardens to create a model of your inner ear. The process is uncomfortable, cannot safely reach the entire length of the canal, and can sometimes be inaccurate. (Not to mention that it might make you think disturbing thoughts of the Star Trek Wrath of Kahn ear-eel scene.) Lantos’ product, however, minimizes the invasive nature of ear-mapping.

Lantos’ 3D scanner is like putting a thin pencil in your ear, according to new chief executive and chairman of the board, Jeffrey Leathe. The probe has a “sophisticated balloon,” or membrane, at the end that can be inflated and then safely travels all the way down the ear canal. A liquid travels along the membrane and allows a camera, aided by a light at the end of the probe, to record thousands of data points along the canal. This forms the 3D image, without much disturbance to the patient.

The idea was born in the MIT lab of Doug Hart, who created 3D oral scanning technology later bought by 3M. This technology also replaced a molded impression technique, but for teeth. Now Leathe has been brought on board to lead the ear-focused technology down the path of testing for not one, but three markets: audiology (hearing aids), military and consumer use.

“We are just entering clinical trials, our major clinical trial will be held with the U.S. Army,” Leathe told VentureBeat in an interview.

The military has shown significant interest in this technology, according to Leathe, particularly for hearing protection and two way communications devices. Leathe was limited in what he could discuss surrounding the products themselves. He did mention, however, current impression-taking technology doesn’t make for a comfortable fitting device. Thus, some soldiers opt to not wear protective ear pieces, so as not to hinder their performance. If that practice is widespread, it’s no wonder the military is reaching out for a better way to protect its soldiers.

Other studies will be done in audiologists’ private practices and institutions for hearing aid development, along with a branch in the consumer direction.

“We’ve been taking to a lot of folks in the consumer industry, but it’s early,” said Leathe.

Currently, a few companies, such as Etymotics , will make a personal set of earbuds for your headphones, but it’s pricey. This is where Lantos would step in with a more accurate picture of your ear and subsequent ear bud.

“[Look at] Dr. Dre. That’s $300 for a pair of Dr. Dre headphones,” said Leathe. “People are willing to pay a large amount of money for better audio quality.”

Lantos will be using its funding to move the device out of prototype stage and into production next year. The device will officially be launched at the AAA conference, an audiology event based in Boston, in mid-2012.

The company is headquartered near Boston in Cambridge, Mass. and was founded in 2010. Lantos has 9 employees strong and has raised $5.7 million total in venture funding to date. Investors include Excel Venture Management, Catalyst Health Ventures, and Mass Medical Angels.

[Image via hkannn/Shutterstock]

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