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If you thought modern hearing aids are just rehashed versions of their bulky predecessors, think again. These devices, like smartphones, have become multi-sensory supercomputers, offering practicality and hearing assistance at a whole new level.
Hearing aids are micro-electronic devices. And, as such, they’re benefiting from the same improvements in the underlying technology that is making your smartphone, digital camera, and PC more capable every year.
What’s more, thanks to “hearables,” we’re getting to the stage where it is economically viable to make ear-size products for the general consumer market, not just hearing aid users.
All this activity, therefore, is changing the structure of the industry in ways that people didn’t expect just five years ago.
In this post, you’ll learn more about technologies that are already here, as well as those that are on the horizon.
Active Language Translation
Imagine you go abroad to a foreign country that speaks a different language (hard to imagine at the moment, granted). In the past, you’d have to reach for your guidebook to ask for directions or place your order. But with active language translations embedded in your hearing aids, you’ll be able to understand the people around you immediately, without having to use random hand gesticulations to get your point across. In other words, you’ll get a Star Trek-style translator and a hearing aid bundled into one, putting you at an advantage over just regular travelers.
If you think this technology is far in the future, you’re mistaken. Companies like Google already have real-time language translation available for smartphones. It won’t be long before the same software finds its way into assistive hearing devices – perhaps a couple of years at the most.
Improved Battery Life
Old hearing aids had a short battery life. The battery technology wasn’t as advanced as today and the units themselves guzzled enormous amounts of power. Keeping their processors well-juiced was almost impossible.
That, however, changed in recent years. Scientists improved the energy density of cells, which was helpful for tiny hearing devices. And computer chip manufacturers also made massive progress in packing more transistors onto silicon wafers while allowing them to perform the same number of operations, but at much lower energies.
Automatic Adjustments To The Noise Environment
Modern hearing aids come with dozens of settings, allowing you to create multiple profiles for different settings. Unfortunately, with most old models, you had to manually adjust the settings yourself. It didn’t happen automatically.
The problem in the past was creating hearing aids that understood their noise environment. Nobody had developed software that could tell the difference between a loud room packed with people, and a quiet walk in the woods, listening to the birds.
That, however, is changing thanks to artificial intelligence. This new breed of software is able to distinguish between different types of sounds similar to a human and then adjust settings accordingly. For instance, it’ll switch off the directional microphone if you’re talking to somebody across the table in a crowded room, and then turn it off again once you get outside.
Hearing aid manufacturers are increasingly integrating their devices with the modern device ecosystem. Some are even looking at ways for hearing aids to become a type of remote control, able to control other things in the home.
The current state of the art is voice-control. You simply say that you’d like something to happen and the hearing aids will collect the instruction before communicating it to other devices in your home via WiFi. It means that you can control your toaster or Spotify account with just the spoken word, a little bit like Alexa or Google Home.
Health Metric Collection
Smartwatches became popular because of their health monitoring features. Users place them on their wrists and get all kinds of information about the state of their health.
Now, though, the same is true of hearing aids. And because they fit inside the body, they’re often able to collect more accurate data on what’s really happening.
Older adults are the main users of hearing aids, and many of them are at risk of serious health problems, besides hearing loss. Relatively few of them, though, wear smartwatches (or other devices that provide health monitoring). Including this technology on hearing aids, therefore, could be a great way to benefit the people who need it the most.
We already have hearing aids that can alert first responders if the wearer suffers a health issue. But soon AIs will monitor health data in real-time and suggest course correcting actions before problems become fully apparent.
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