‘Nucleus’ wearable speech processor

Made by Cochlear Limited in Lane Cove, New South Wales, 1984.

Cochlear Limited was founded in Australia in 1981, based on Australian research by Dr Graeme Clark in developing the cochlear implant or bionic ear. By 2006 it had become an international leader in the manufacture and sale of cochlear implant systems.

This item is the first commercial model of a speech processor produced by Cochlear Limited. It was designed for use with the Nucleus 22 implant developed in 1983 which, in 1985, was the first multi-channel implant and speech processor system to re...


Object No.


Physical Description

Speech processor, 'Nucleus', metal / plastic / electronic components, made by Cochlear Limited, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1984

Rectangular shape of silver metal and blue plastic with a control knob and switch at top end. Cable for headset is attached to a second knob at top end. 'nucleus' and 'made in australia' printed on front and 'Bionic Ear, 20 March 1984, Number 15' is printed in tape on the back of the device.



125 mm


80 mm


25 mm



Designed and made by Cochlear Ltd, Australia, 1983-1984. The markings indicate it was the 15th wearable speech processor produced by Cochlear and was made on 20th March 1984.

This speech processor was designed for use with the Nucleus 22 implant developed in 1983 which in 1985 was the first multi-channel implant and speech processor system to receive approval for use by the US Food and Drug Administration. This was the first commercial model of speech processor produced by Cochlear.

The design strategy was to make a flexible cochlear implant with sophisticated sound processing in the externally worn speech processor, allowing the recipient to take advantage of improvements in technology without surgically replacing their implanted device.


Cochlear Limited 1984



This speech processor was lent to the Museum for display in the Engineering Excellence exhibition 2005-2006.

Graeme Clark's father was a deaf man in a hearing family and society. He was a pharmacist and often had to ask his customers to 'speak up' about their medical problems - which embarrassed him and them.

In 1967 Graeme embarked on a long journey towards fulfilling his dream of helping deaf people 'hear' the spoken word again. For ten years his research into electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve via an implant into the cochlea (a structure in the inner ear shaped like a snail shell) struggled along on animal experiments and university grant funding.

In 1974 a telethon on Channel 10 in Melbourne generated enough funds to take his work to the prototype stage and test it in a human patient, Rod Saunders. The 'bionic ear' worked: Rod could perceive sound again.

This demonstration encouraged the Australian government to finance commercialisation of the 'bionic ear'. The financing of the cochlear implant's manufacture and marketing became a remarkably successful joint venture. The three-way partnership was between researchers at the University of Melbourne, the federal government and a medical equipment exporter called Nucleus. This partnership led to the formation of a string of Cochlear enterprises in the US, Japan and Switzerland including Cochlear Pty Ltd in Australia.

The Nucleus® 22, introduced in 1983, was the first use of a 22-channel implant. It allowed the user to distinguish a wide range of sound frequencies and became the world's most widely used cochlear implant system. Clinical trials from 1982 to 1984 in Australia and overseas culminated in 1985 when the Nucleus implant was given official approval for sale by the US Food and Drug Administraion. It was the first multi-electrode device to be approved by the US FDA and the second bionic ear of any type to be approved.

By the early 1990s Cochlear Pty Ltd was making a profit and Professor Clark was earning royalties. In 1994, after 5 years of lobbying, the implant was approved by Japanese health insurance companies, opening up a market of up to 50000 profoundly deaf people.

The most recent implant introduced in 1999, Nucleus® 24 Contour, uses a pre-curved electrode. The electrode is made with the curved shape of the cochlea, improving the sound quality and simplifying surgery. Its speech processor incorporates the microphone and processor behind the ear, eliminated unnecessary wires. It won the Australian Design Award of the Year in 2000.

By the end of the century there were over 24 000 Nucleus users in 50 countries worldwide, and the total time that all Nucleus systems had been in use was over 142 000 years (Nucleus implant years). Since 1988, Nucleus, including Cochlear, had been a wholly owned subsidiary of Pacific Dunlop. In 1995, Cochlear was sold by Pacific Dunlop and floated on the Australian Stock Exchange, as a publicly listed company.

Who Did It?
Key Organisations
Cochlear Pty Ltd : R&D, design, manufacture
University of Melbourne : R&D
Nucleus Ltd : commercialised first implant

Key People
Graeme Clark : innovator, team leader
Paul Trainor : manufacturer
Reginald Ansett : Channel 10 owner (telethon)

Further Reading
The story of the bionic ear
J Epstein
Hyland House, Melbourne, 1989.

Sounds from silence: Graeme Clark and the bionic ear story
Graeme Clark
Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 2000


Credit Line

Gift of Cochlear Limited, 2007

Acquisition Date

27 February, 2007

Cite this Object


'Nucleus' wearable speech processor 2015, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 22 January 2018, <https://ma.as/363558>


{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/363558 |title='Nucleus' wearable speech processor |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=22 January 2018 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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