Local audiologist becomes successful inventor   

By Greg Miller
star staff

ÊÊ  JOHNSON CITY -- Listen up!
  Dr. Daniel Schumaier, a local audiologist, has received patents on several inventions.
  Dr. Schumaier is the inventor of Dry & Store, a hearing aid drying and sanitizing device. "One of the biggest problems we have with hearing aids is moisture," he said."Moisture is the major culprit in all hearing aid repairs. It probably accounts for 50 percent of every hearing aid repair we've got.
  The Dry & Store device is made for use each night. Schumaier said users put the hearing aid inside a device called a Dry Brik every night, close it, and press a button that activates a germicidal lamp. The lamp shines on the hearing aid and kills any bacteria on it. Afterward, the lamp de-activates and a heating element and fan raise the temperature and circulate warm air through the hearing aid. Schumaier said the device, which is like a drawer, is called a desiccant.
  "A desiccant is something that will absorb moisture ... Water molecules like to stick together, so the heat breaks the surface tension. The air moves those water molecules, and that block absorbs them, so the hearing aid gets dryer and dryer all night long. It really makes a big difference as to how the hearing aid functions.
  "We designed this product in the United States, then people outside the United States started wanting the product. So we came up with another, smaller one called Dry & Store Global", Schumaier said.
  Schumaier also started another company called Ear Technology Corp. about eight years ago after he received a patent for the Dry & Store. Ear Technology Corp. is involved in the manufacturing and marketing of the smaller device.
  "We manufacture here in Johnson City, and the small model we also manufacture in Bangkok, Thailand. We attempted to manufacture here in the United States and sell overseas, but it becomes impossible because of the difference in currency exchanges. The first one I tried, I didn't get a patent on," he said. "That was for a device that is to clean wax out of the ears. It is a lighted curette. People are using them now, but the patent office didn't issue a patent on that particular product."
  According to Rick Gilbert, who runs Ear Technology Corp., the company sells its products in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Holland, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Japan, Mexico and Canada. "The instructions are translated into five different languages now," said Dr. Schumaier, who also received a patent on the Dry Brik.
  Dr. Schumaier's most recent patent is a hearing aid that he developed for people who have a total hearing loss in one ear. "In the past, people who have had a completely dead ear, we haven't had very many options to work with," he said. "There's about 50,000 people every year in the United States alone that lose their hearing on one side. They wake up in the morning and have a sudden hearing loss. It can be due to a viral infection. It can be due to an interruption of the blood supply. There can be tumors. A number of things can cause these unilateral or one-sided hearing losses that are total."
  Schumaier said that, in the past, the only option for complete loss in one ear was to place a microphone in the good ear and send sound to the bad ear with a wire or by radio frequencies.
  "The problem with that is that most people don't like to have something occluding or plugging up the good ear, so most people don't like to wear those products," he said.
  Dr. Schumaier solved that problem several years ago, "by sending the sound through the skull. The inner ear is in the hardest bone in the body." He came up with the idea of inserting a hearing aid into the bad ear. "But instead of having a hearing aid with a regular speaker, that hearing aid would have a vibrator in the ear canal because half of the ear canal is bone," he said. "We actually make a long impression of the ear. We build a transducer or an ear piece that has a speaker at the very end of it. The sound is picked up by microphone, it's amplified, but instead of going to a speaker, it goes to this vibrator. The vibration is passed through the skull from the bad ear over to the good ear, but people actually perceive that they are hearing from the bad side." United Hearing Systems, of Connecticut, has been licensed to manufacture and distribute the product nationwide and in Canada.
  "We're presently in clinical trials, evaluating different types of vibrators to find the one that's going to do the best job for us," Dr. Schumaier said. "We hope to have this product on the market, in limited production, starting around December."
  Magnetic cat litter is another of Dr. Schumaier's inventions. "When my daughter went away to college, I was left taking care of her cat at the house," he said. "I found out very quickly that when a cat gets out of the litter box, it can track litter on hardwood floors and you have to vacuum all the time. I thought, 'There must be something better,' so I started investigating cat litter."
  Dr. Schumaier is currently working to gain approval for two other patents.