This object, together with 'gold box' prototype cochlear implant, documents a critical step in the development of Australian research that has had continued impact around the world. This research, led by Dr Graeme Clark in the 1970s, formed the basis of Cochlear Ltd, an Australian company which became an international leader in the manufacture and sale of cochlear implant systems. By 2010 over 200 000 people in more than 100 countries had received the implant, which enables profoundly deaf people to hear.
This was the first portable version of the speech processor, one of two used by Rod Saunders and George Watson, the two test patients, to demonstrate the cochlear implant speech processing strategy at a media conference in 1980. It provided proof of Dr Graeme Clark's idea for a cochlear implant system and enabled him to obtain funding for further development and a clinical trial. 'This prototype... was the first proof that it could be made small enough to wear and therefore would be possible for industry.' *
The first commercial cochlear implant system developed by Nucleus (which later became Cochlear) received US FDA approval in 1985. By 1998 Cochlear had developed their first behind the ear speech processor, worn entirely behind the ear, freeing recipients from cables and connectors. This object represents the beginning of Cochlear's design strategy of making 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. This object also represents Australia's continued innovation and expertise in developing medical devices and associated precision manufacturing.
*Professor Graeme Clark, Powerhouse Museum interview 6 Dec 2010