Reducing power consumption is important for the development of smaller cochlear implant (CI) speech processors. Simultaneous electrode stimulation may improve power efficiency by minimizing the required current applied to a given electrode. Simultaneous in-phase stimulation on adjacent electrodes (i.e. virtual channels) can be used to elicit pitch percepts intermediate to the ones provided by each of the physical electrodes in isolation. Virtual channels are typically implemented in monopolar stimulation mode, producing broad excitation patterns. Focused stimulation may reduce the excitation patterns, but is inefficient in terms of power consumption. To create a more power efficient virtual channel, we developed the Dynamically Compensated Virtual Channel (DC-VC) using four adjacent electrodes. The two central electrodes are current steered using the coefficient Symbol (Symbol) whereas the two flanking electrodes are used to focus/unfocus the stimulation with the coefficient Symbol (Symbol). With increasing values of Symbol, power can be saved at the potential expense of generating broader electric fields. Additionally, reshaping the electric fields might also alter place pitch coding.
The goal of the present study is to investigate the tradeoff between place pitch encoding and power savings using simultaneous electrode stimulation in the DC-VC configuration. A computational model and psychophysical experiments in CI users have been used for that purpose.
Results from 10 adult Advanced Bionics CI users have been collected. Results show that the required current to produce comfortable levels is significantly reduced with increasing Symbol as predicted by the computational model. Moreover, no significant differences in the estimated number of discriminable steps were detected for the different values of Symbol. From these results, we conclude that DC-VCs can reduce power consumption without decreasing the number of discriminable place pitch steps.