With the exception of politicians, it seems that everything is getting smarter these days. We have technology to thank (or blame, depending on your perspective) for this. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and more have led to a new category of smart devices running the gamut from thermostats and doorbells to light bulbs and coffee makers. Soon, people with hearing loss in La Verne will even be able to buy smart hearing aids!
From Analog to Digital…and Beyond
Hearing aids have come a long way since ear trumpets first hit the scene back in the 17th century. The first electric hearing aid was developed in 1898 and relied on electric currents to amplify sounds. By 1913 hearing aids were available commercially, but these early devices were large and unwieldy. Hearing aids using vacuum tubes were developed in 1920, and shortly after World War II came the invention of the transistor, which led to smaller hearing devices that used less battery power. The 1980s brought high-speed processors and microcomputers and the 1990s saw the first digital hearing aids. It’s impossible to predict what the technology of the future will bring, but it’s quite possible your hearing aids might one day give you a backrub and pour you a glass of wine.
That might be a stretch, but one thing is certain: technology continues to advance, and that’s making hearing aids a whole lot smarter than before. The most important innovations of the past decade have included:
- Audio streaming. Bluetooth® technology came into widespread use in the 2010s and is a standard feature on most hearing aids today. It allows users to wirelessly connect their hearing aids to other electronic devices such as smartphones, computers and TVs. Audio is streamed directly to their hearing aids, so they can listen at a level comfortable to them without disturbing others. Multiple devices can be connected, so if your phone rings during “Jeopardy,” you can pause Alex Trebek to take the call.
- Smart home connectivity. A web-based software platform called IFTTT (“IF This Then That”) is utilized to allow home devices to wirelessly sync with other electronics. This is how Alexa is able to turn up the heat to 72 degrees with a simple voice command. Smart hearing aids are being developed to take advantage of this technology, allowing the user to control their hearing aids and other devices by speaking. It will enable alert sounds such as chimes or spoken notifications to be delivered directly to the user.
- AI health monitoring. Health tracking devices have become very popular over the past few years, thanks to products like the Fitbit and Apple Watch. Hearing aid manufacturers have taken note and are turning to AI in order to expand their devices’ capabilities. Smart hearing aids incorporating AI health monitoring will be able to track a user’s physical and mental health, relying on sensors to track stats and deliver a health report card. They’ll even be able to tell when a user is in trouble (e.g., fallen down) and automatically alert their emergency contacts.
What a wonderful time it is to be alive right now! While the full potential of smart hearing aids is yet to be realized, the future is certainly looking bright. If you’d like more information about hearing aid technology, contact an audiologist in La Verne.