How New Gadgets Could Help Improve Your Hearing

More than hearing aids

Key Takeaways

  • A wide range of new devices could boost your hearing through advancements in technology, including artificial intelligence. 
  • Alphabet’s moonshot factory reportedly is developing a wearable device that could augment your hearing. 
  • According to the World Health Organization, 1.5 billion people globally have some form of hearing loss.
Someone cupping their hand behind their ear to hear better.
Basak Gurbuz Derman / Getty Images

New devices could provide superhuman hearing to counter our increasingly noisy environments. 

Alphabet’s moonshot factory reportedly is developing a wearable device that could augment your hearing. It’s one of a growing number of gadgets to boost your hearing. The devices could help people who aren’t ordinarily hard of hearing. 

"Understanding others in noisy environments can be difficult even if one does not have hearing loss," Andrew Bellavia, director of market development at Knowles, a developer of microphones and receivers for hearing aids, said in an email interview.

"For those with mild loss, it can be nearly impossible in some situations. Consumer devices exist, which provide filtering and directional microphones to improve one’s ability to hear in noise."

Advances in Hearing Tech

Alphabet’s X lab is working on a project codenamed Wolverine, according to a report in Business Insider. The group has produced prototypes that can assist the wearer with isolating a specific voice in a crowded room. 

There are many other systems on the market to boost the sound of human voices, Bellavia noted. For example, Chatable offers an iOS app that works in conjunction with AirPods.

"Advancements in technology have led to the development of modern solutions that enable the community to have higher levels of access."

Another system enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) is made by Whisper and is intended to serve those with more severe hearing loss. "It consists of a standalone hearing aid and a small, external 'brain,' which can be used to further improve hearing in noise," he noted. 

Advances in AI could help develop future hearing aids. Researchers in Belgium recently released a study in Nature Machine Intelligence, introducing a new AI machine learning model that they claim performs 2,000 times faster than current machine-based hearing solutions.

The researchers named their hybrid AI model CoNNear, a fully convolutional encoder-decoder neural network. "We have high hopes that the CoNNear framework will inspire a new generation of human-like machine hearing, augmented hearing, and automatic speech-recognition systems," the researchers wrote in the paper. 

Many People Could Be Helped

Wolverine could help a lot of people if it succeeds. According to the World Health Organization, 1.5 billion people globally have some form of hearing loss. 

But Bruce Sharpe, CEO of Singular Hearing, said that the Alphabet project might not produce results anytime soon. "It’s a challenge to get effective algorithms to run on small devices," he said.

Someone wearing a clear hearing enhancement device while reading a newspaper on the train.
miodrag ignjatovic / Getty Images

"And there are always issues with the expense, battery life, delivering upgrades, and just the hassles of having to manage yet another device."

Singular Hearing is the developer of the HeardThat, an AI-powered hearing assistive app that works with Android and iPhones. Rather than amplifying or reducing all sound entirely, HeardThat aims to separate speech from noise to deliver enhanced voice audio while minimizing background noise.

"iPhone and Android smartphones have the processing power, memory, and battery life to support HeardThat’s powerful algorithms, unlike small wearable hearing devices," Sharpe said. "The app works in conjunction with earphones or hearing aids when connected to the device, either wired or via Bluetooth."

High Tech Hearing Solutions

Other new solutions to hearing problems include Listen Technologies' Listen Everywhere, which the company touts as the first streaming solution for personal and assistive listening.

For schools, the system works on a school's existing Wi-Fi network. Users (students in the school example) can download the free Listen Everywhere app and stream audio from a teacher speaking into a microphone or any other school audio source directly to their smart devices.

"Understanding others in noisy environments can be difficult even if one does not have hearing loss."

The manufacturer claims they can hear clearly via earbuds or Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids. 

Another app for those hard of hearing is InnoCaption, which the developer says is the only mobile application that provides real-time captioning of phone calls using live stenographers or automatic speech recognition. 

"Telecommunications accessibility has historically been a significant barrier for those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing," Joe Duarte, the co-CEO of InnoCaption, said in an email interview. 

"But advancements in technology have led to the development of modern solutions that enable the community to have higher levels of access."

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