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Medicine Technology

Ask Slashdot: Hearing Aids That Directly Connect To Smart Phones? 183

mtcups writes "I am a musician/IT guy whose hearing has suffered from VERY LOUD guitar players, (yes I do use earplugs now, but too late), and am faced with the outrageously priced hearing aids $4.5K+/pair and was appalled at their lack of integration with smart phones. It seems obvious to me that I should be able to control the hearing aids via a smart phone interface so I can shape the profile for different environments, and also control features like 'hearing loops' and Bluetooth connections. I have done some research, but my guess is that the hearing aid companies want proprietary systems and don't want a smartphone interface since they would loose control and it would allow for competition for cheaper & better programs. I am not convinced that a combination of good ear-buds, good microphone(s), and a smartphone interface couldn't totally replace these overpriced solutions."
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Ask Slashdot: Hearing Aids That Directly Connect To Smart Phones?

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  • Fully agree.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 20, 2012 @03:16AM (#41396345)

    I use Siemens headsets which utilize a propriarety low energy radio signal to communicate with each other and a separate bluetooth gateway. I was told that Bluetooth drains too much energy from the small batteries so thay had to choose the gateway approach.

    I also agree with you: te lack of being able to configure the audio characteristics yourself with a Smartphone is disturbing. Probably the market for tech enthusiasts that wear hearing aids is too small :-(

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 20, 2012 @03:17AM (#41396353)

    There are reasons why hearing aids are expensive, yada yada. Yet it does look like they're overinflated. Sounds like a great opportunity for a kickstarter project to me. If you can get to a point where you can develop a hearing at that does as well as existing ones at 1/8 of the price, I'm sure you can find more than 8 people that are willing to pay that 1/8 of the price for them.

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  • by soundguy ( 415780 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @03:48AM (#41396473) Homepage

    They're expensive because the cartel that makes them got them classified as medical devices decades ago. There are all kinds of legal and regulatory hoops you have to jump thru before you can call something a "hearing aid".

    You can buy a bluetooth earpiece for $20-$80 that has the exact same parts - condenser mic, speaker element, battery, and opamp/EQ circuit - and has vastly more functionality, including the bluetooth radio system and spiffy LED indicator lights.

    Hearing aids are configured with an equalization curve tailored the the wearer's specific hearing loss, but it's not like there are a million different kinds of loss. It's mostly "top down" according to age and environment. Only newborns can hear 20khz. We lose a few thousand before we hit puberty and pretty much everyone loses everything above 12k by their 30's. (by "lose" I mean response is down a considerable number of decibels from our factory abilities). Impact-type noise from construction, artillery, or rock bands can punch holes in what's left, especially in the voice frequencies, but it's not like it's DNA-complicated or something. A simple hearing test can identify your remaining response curve in a few minutes and it isn't going to be that much different from the guy on the next bulldozer on the left or the guitar player on the other side of the stage.

    There's no reason an ear doctor or audiologist couldn't give you a "prescription" response curve when you go in for a hearing test that you could load into a device that costs two figures (three if you want it to be super tiny) yourself with an app of some kind. The 4-5-figure price tags are simple price gouging by a "medical" cartel.

  • Re:Fully agree.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 20, 2012 @03:56AM (#41396503)

    I guess the vast majority of people in need of a hearing aid is old enough to have spent the most time of their life without mobile phones at all, let alone smartphones, and are thus not very interested in smartphones in general, or in smartphone-controlled hearing aids specifically. Add to that the security implications of such an interface (imagine someone hacking your smartphone and then disabling your hearing aid in a critical moment so you can't hear something specific — more importantly for the hearing aid producer, you might sue them afterwards), and probably complex procedures of getting them approved (I'm pretty sure hearing aids count as medical devices), there's likely not much motivation for the producers to offer it.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @03:57AM (#41396507)

    There is no reason to run hearing aids solely on batteries. At the price tag current hearing aids have, you could power them with the energy your body emits anyway, via a thermoelectric element or a generator that turns body movements into electricity. Said that I know there are probably no hearing aids out there actually featuring those, that are more than proof of concepts. But as a former poster already said: It looks like a worthwhile kickstarter project.

    A thermo electric element needs a decent temperature differential to operate. Unless you're willing to tolerate a large heatsink hanging outside your ears (and are willing to accept that the hearing aid will be less and less effective as the ambient temperature approaches body temperature), then you're probably not going to have a thermocouple powered hearing aid. You'd probably be better off with a solar cell outside your ear to recharge the batteries.

    Similarly, a generator that is powered by body movement requires body movement and unless you like to wiggle your ears all day long, you're not going to find much movement in your ears for powering the device. If you're willing to accept wires that connect the device to an area of your body that has more movement, then maybe you'd be better off with a bigger battery pack somewhere outside your ear.

    If you're willing to accept an implanted power device, there are probably some biochemical reactions that can provide enough power to run the device.

    Of all the complaints I hear from dad about his hearing aids, battery life is not one of them. He gets a little under a week of battery life, and given that he takes them out every night, replacing the batteries once a week is not a big deal.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 20, 2012 @04:52AM (#41396739)

    The same principle could be applied to autism or other conditions that cause sensory overload. Hyperacusis and sensory integration disorder cause irritation, physical pain and difficulty comprehending spoken words. An amplifier containing some form of equalisation and some form of compression and limiting can hugely improve the listening experience - I have experimented with a guitar amplifier, which is not very portable.

    Combining isolating, noise-cancelling headphones with a filter / limiter would allow people with hyperacusis to experience sound without discomfort. A smart phone would make an infinitely adaptable device that is socially acceptable and useable in places like cinema theatres.

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