How technology could turn us into superheroes: the future of hearing
Have you always wondered what it would be like to have a tiny ear device to be able to hear a conversation that’s hard to hear because of background noise? Maybe you have always wanted to become the master of all languages so that you can easily get along anywhere in the world? Well, the very latest developments in-ear technology could not only improve the perceived sounds for the hearing impaired, but they could also be capable of turning humans into superheroes. So, listen up because here is how science fiction is coming to our ears.
The age of hearables is fast approaching
With new innovations in hearing and ear-based technologies, like earbuds, headphones, hearing aids, and lots of other devices that measure various health parameters via the ear, a common term is “hearables” – a new age of hearing-related treatments is coming. Many of these devices combine many functions, they can be used for diagnostics or treatment, and some feature different styles, colours, and accessibility. Furthermore, one project that is in the business of hearables is reported to be worth more than $17 billion.
Perhaps even Thomas Edison, the American inventor, may have taken a different course in life in the digital technology era. Edison suffered for much of his life with hearing impairments from the age of 12. His condition didn’t hinder him from making such incredible achievements, but imagine what these newfound technologies could have done to aid his talents. So, just exactly how could the lives of around 466 million people globally be improved? 34 million of these are children who suffer from hearing loss, as per the WHO estimates. Let’s have a look at what technologies are available for the hearing impaired.
Otoscopes and smart apps for diagnosing hearing problems
There are many different methods used to assess hearing issues and to detect early on whether, for instance, listening to goth music or loud rock music has any impact on your ability to hear sounds. Take Bill Clinton, for example, he now wears hearing aids to follow conversations in busy environments as a result of the use of hunting rifles and attending loud political rallies.
So, if you want confirmation that you don’t have trouble hearing sounds, then make sure you make an appointment with your doctor and tell them. Or, you could try a smart app to check your level of hearing. Hearing Test for Android, and UHear, along with Mimi Test for iPhone are all examples of these smart apps. You could try one of them out before visiting your GP perhaps.
There are also various kinds of smart otoscopes that were recently introduced on the market to diagnose hearing issues. For instance, the TYM Otoscope, the CellScope, and TytoCare’s products can be connected to a smartphone making it able to become an otoscope with only a few steps. The user can also take a video or photo of a family member’s ear which can be sent to an otorhinolaryngology specialist for a consultation. It could be an extremely useful tool for children or the elderly who are less willing to visit the GP.
The ear is the new wrist
The hearing care technologies currently on the market signify many hearing aids and cochlear implants that enable the deaf or hearing impaired to be supported. Over the last ten years, they have been transformed entirely. These once basic hearing aids have become multifunctional medical instruments and they will only evolve further in the future. Today, they have access to the Internet, they are able to scan the entire sound environment 100 times each second, they are fit for iPhones, and they can reduce noise before delivering it. According to experts, Bluetooth technology will become a standard feature among the hearing aids of the future, even more so after Apple patented specific Bluetooth tech for hearing aids that will connect to the iOS platform.
The best way to describe the general trend that is happening here is that these latest devices on the market are moving from a basic medical instrument to a complex digital assistant, capable of carrying out tasks that are above and beyond only correcting hearing. They will be able to change the perception of one’s environment and offer services that were way beyond their reach before. So those people with hearing aids in the future will become superheroes with sci-fi futuristic characteristics.
For instance, TV ears, a simple innovation, but one that is helping people with hearing loss hear the TV properly without needing to turn up the volume. Another piece of tech launched in 2019 by Starkey Hearing Technologies is able to detect falls and measure physical activity. The company is also working on innovating advanced sensors, so they will have a heart rate sensor. Hearing aids are being pushed forward in the wellness and health field, therefore turning them into the new wrist, metaphorically speaking.
The combination of Artificial Intelligence and hearing aids
The new innovation from Starkey Hearing Technology is called the Livio AI, it uses tine sensors and, as the name suggests, AI technology to filter out the noise and focus on specific sources, for example, the wearer is sitting across from someone in a busy restaurant. It is also capable of tracking many health parameters, including stairs climbed, steps walked, and cognitive activity. It can also translate 27 languages. Along with all of this, once it has received its next update, it will be able to measure heart rate. The company, Starkey Hearing, is at the forefront of its field and has helped the likes of Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela to hear better. There are, however, many other companies in the field that are developing solutions.
Nuear’s hearing aid paired with its Circa AI is a similar product to Livio AI. However, it promises excellent sound quality plus the ability to act like a wearable tracking device that will measure vital signs along with brain health. It features artificial intelligence and integrated sensors, and it vows to detect if the user has fallen and thus, will act as an assistant. Additionally, a report from Hearing Tracker, one of the very best innovations on the market which uses hearing aids and AI, is the SoundSense Learn technology that is used in Widex EVOKE hearing aids. The SoundSense Learn app lets users change the settings of their hearing aids based on their current environment.
As AI and digital assistants are evolving, big tech companies are also appearing on the scene. Google has created a new system that may soon be able to isolate a speech signal among the multitude of other voices and background noises. AI of this magnitude will be a giant leap forwards in the technology of hearing and it will allow those with hearing loss to hear someone speaking to them so much more clearly, regardless of the environment.
In the future, we may start to see hearing aids that are connected to the world wide web without the need for a smartphone. And, companies are trying to turn the hearing aid into a healthcare device that can be used as a translation machine. We could, at that point, see people with full hearing be using devices like that. How amazing would it be to be buying churros in Spain with a little bug in your ear, or speaking to a Chinese sales representative without the need for an interpreter? There is, of course, the aim for sustainability with such innovations, and companies are creating ways to allow these devices to work using only body heat of kinetic power in the future.
The common denominator of Botswana and jewelry
Another requirement that has become more prevalent when looking at cochlear implants and hearing aids is the more general need for design. Going beyond just the objective of creating a medical instrument that will also measure health parameters like vital signs, along with being easy and patient-friendly to use, is the aesthetic appearance. There are many elements of design thinking and user experience that goes into developing such a product, and that’s all the more visible when looking at hearables.
These new design trends also help to rid the social stigmas of such medical devices. Many people don’t want to wear hearing aids because it’s associated with age and perceived as being more dependent while also suggesting that the body is shutting down. But, that is very different if someone is wearing a non-detectable, almost jewelry-like piece of tech. It can provide a lot of confidence by being able to hear properly, and also looking fashionable. For instance, a hearing aid created by Julia Marian Cunha is both a fashion accessory and a hearing aid at the same time. There is also the Facett hearing aid, created by the Australian company, which is both patient-friendly and unique, plus it’s inspired by crystals!
Deftronics, a company based in Botswana, tried to tackle another part of how to make technology more available to people. It actually created the very first solar-powered hearing aid unit, Solar Ear. The country only has 12 audiologists and five audiology centers for over 12 million inhabitants. Both Solar Ear units come with a digital hearing aid, four rechargeable batteries, and a solar battery charger. The batteries can be used in around 80% of hearing aids that are currently on the market. This innovation has helped to reduce the number of visits that patients have to usually make to care centers in Brazil, China, India, Africa, and Singapore.
And what to expect in the future?
We may already have smartphone apps, hearing aids, and cochlear implants becoming designer wearables, and various other add-ons turning mobile phones into otoscopes, all allowing humans to become superhuman. But with technology like CRISPR and genetics coming onto the scene, there are developments that could treat the hearing impaired forever.
There has recently been news about a Russian scientist that is working with a deaf couple. The couple wants him to prevent them from having a child that will inherit their condition by neutralizing the defective GJB2 genes during artificial insemination. Many scientists and bioethicists believe that it might be too early to experiment on human embryos just yet, but in the future, when people don’t have hearing issues and don’t need hearing aids or cochlear implants because it’s all taken care of at birth, would be quite a bright future.