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New tech for a new decade

For all things tech, there’s no better way to start the new decade than with the Consumer Electronics Show – CES 2020. Held every January in Las Vegas, it’s the largest event of its kind. This year among the mini drones, robotics and new concept electric cars are some exciting innovations for people with hearing loss and deafness.

HeardThat App

The drive towards harnessing the computing power of smartphones for hearing assistance took another step forward with the HeardThat app. Developed by Singular Hearing in Canada, the app can help people converse more easily in noisy social situations by filtering out background noise.

Using advanced machine learning algorithms to listen to the noisy environment, the app delivers ‘de-noised’ speech to the individual’s Bluetooth enabled hearing aid paired to their smartphone, or through paired or connected earphones.

“Often the first step in helping people with a hearing problem is an in-ear hearing aid. However, the weakness of even the most sophisticated hearing aids is the challenge of separating speech from background noise,” says Bruce Sharpe, Founder and CEO of Singular Hearing.

“Machine learning gives us the unique power and flexibility to solve this long-standing problem. We are passionate about putting it to use through HeardThat and providing new options for the millions of families, friends, and colleagues with hearing loss.”

Once beta trials are complete, the app will be available for Android and iOS devices in early 2020.

Phonak launches hearing aid in the style of a hearable

Hearables have caught on with consumers eager to ditch the tangle and inconvenience of wired earphones. They fit snugly in the ear, look a tad bulkier than earphones, and increasing sophistication means they can do more – some even allow users to optimise the audio to their hearing profile. It’s perhaps not too surprising that we’re now seeing the launch of a fully functioning, connected behind the ear (BTE) hearing aid packaged as a hearable.

3D printed and assembled by experts, the Phonak Virto Black hearable is custom made and boasts Marvel technology for universal Bluetooth streaming from Android and iOS devices and almost any other Bluetooth enabled audio device. It also supports Roger, allowing it to work with a range of Phonak remote wireless microphones and streamers.

It will likely appeal to anyone looking for an alternative to a conventional looking BTE hearing aid.

Due for launch in the US, Phonak are yet to confirm availability in the UK.

Bluetooth LE Audio

One of the most significant announcements to come out of CES 2020 was from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (Bluetooth SIG). They develop Bluetooth standards and announced LE Audio, a new Bluetooth audio standard that will allow manufacturers to enhance and develop innovations on future wireless audio devices.

Besides improved sound quality, and extended battery life, LE Audio will allow further development of Bluetooth hearing aids, and open up the possibility of location based audio sharing that could provide better accessibility and inclusivity for visitors with hearing loss at public venues.

OrCam Hear

Comprehending speech in a noisy crowd is especially difficult with hearing loss, but developers in Israel have come up with a possible solution. OrCam Hear is a wearable device fitted with a camera that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to combine lip reading and voice separation capabilities. It can identify and isolate the speakers’ voice from background noise and chatter, and has the ability to switch between speakers when conversation shifts from one person to another. It then instantaneously relays the filtered speech through Bluetooth hearing aids.

Snapdragon

One thing you can be certain of at CES is the launch of new phones. This year was no different with 5G and foldable phones, and Qualcomm’s next generation Snapdragon processors that will boost the performance capabilities of new smartphones from mid-2020.

With more people using smartphones for their accessibility needs, faster processors that do more will open up opportunities for developers to create ever more innovative accessibility solutions. Faster processors will likely improve speech-to-text translation particularly in noisy places and for regional accents. Furthermore, AI processing that works on the phone rather than on a remote server will mean less reliance on mobile networks and Wi-Fi.

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