Here the problem - or should I say 'hears' the problem.

This month's Coffee Time Challenge is going to war - onto the battlefield with gunfire and explosions going on all around. It is an incredibly hostile environment, but not just because there is an enemy trying to do you no good. Those explosions can cause irrevocable damage to hearing and a deaf soldier can be difficult to command.

Ear protection in this environment can therefore be vital, but battle instructions and information still need to get through. Standard earpieces can satisfy both requirements, but they also inhibit the soldier’s ability to naturally hear the environment around them. Being able to hear where noises are coming from provides situational awareness which is vital in battle.

The Challenge therefore, is to solve the riddle of how to protect the ears without blocking hearing. A practical way of protecting one sense while not impairing senses that will keep him or her alive.

Another factor of course is that a soldier’s mobility is of upmost importance and every bit of electronics, protective clothing or whatever adds further to the substantial burden the soldier already carriers. The solution needs to be light.

We come, as ever, heavily armed with a solution to this conundrum, but if you have an idea that you think will entertain or interest your fellow Eureka readers then send an email to the idea to the Editor at or go to the Coffee Time Challenge section of the web site and leave your idea as a comment.

Our solution comes from BAE Systems, who have deployed an existing technology in an innovative fashion. Bone conduction technology, which already has applications in commercial hearing aids or headphones, is a method of using the human body’s ability to transmit sound through bones, allowing sound to be ‘heard’ while by-passing the ear drum. It is a phenomenon that was identified nearly 500 years ago, and in 1798 (two years after his hearing started to decline) Beethoven apparently found a way to hear his music by attaching a rod to his piano and clenching it in his teeth.

The BAE Systems solution is substantially more refined than this and it has reduced the size of the transponder to the size of a five pence coin. The differentiator between the bone conductor and standard ear pieces is that soldier borne military tactical radios provide clear audio communications, but they inhibit the soldiers ability to naturally hear the environment around them. The bone conduction system integrated into military helmets provide clear comms and let the soldiers hear their environment simultaneously, enhancing their capability in the battlefield.

Mohammed Akhmad, Principal Scientist at BAE Systems, said: “We recognise that on the battlefield, auditory situational awareness is essential for armed forces personnel. With this system, the soldiers can safeguard their hearing with ear protectors whilst still clearly receiving military voice communications, to enable them to perform their roles efficiently and safely.”