Hearing Aids that Listen to Your Phone

 

Jonathon Miegel – jmiegel@swin.edu.au

Philip Branch – pbranch@swin.edu.au

Swinburne University of Technology

John St

Hawthorn, VIC 3122, AU

 

Peter Blamey – peter.blamey@blameysaunders.com.au

Blamey Saunders hears

364 Albert Street

East Melbourne, VIC 3002, AU

 

Popular version of paper 3pPA5

Presented Wednesday afternoon, May 09, 2018

175th ASA Meeting, Minneapolis

 

Hearing loss affects 10% of the global population to some degree but only 20% of sufferers receive treatment1,2. Hearing aids are the most common treatments for hearing loss, with longer battery life and improved ease of use identified as the most desirable advances that will improve acceptance3,4,5. Our research addresses both these issues.

Modern hearing aids have dramatically shrunk in size over the years. This is a positive development since a small hearing aid is less apparent and more comfortable than has been the case in the past. However, with smaller size has come new problems. Controls for modern hearing aids are now much harder to place on the actual device and smaller controls have become increasingly difficult to use, especially for those with low dexterity. Small switches and additional accessories have been the main ways to interact with hearing aids, with increasing adoption of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for connections with smart phones.

The use of BLE and other radio frequency technologies requires additional hardware within the hearing aid, which increases both its price and power consumption. Our work addresses this problem by using high frequency sound waves and ultrasound to communicate between a smart phone and hearing aid (Figure 1). Using hardware already present on the hearing aid allows our technology to be implemented on both old and new hearing aids without any additional hardware costs.

Figure 1 –  An illustration of acoustic wireless communication between a smart phone and a hearing aid.

Our work investigated the performance of multiple communication techniques operating at frequencies within the inaudible range of 16 to 24 kHz. To reduce power consumption, the highly efficient audio processing capabilities of the hearing aid were used alongside simple manipulations of the audio signal. These simple manipulations modulate the amplitude and frequency of the sound waves to transmit binary data.

We were able to transmit 48 bits of data over a range of 3 metres while consuming less power than BLE. While 48 bits of data is relatively small compared to data sent via radio frequency transmissions, it represents multiple commands for the remote operation of two hearing aids. These commands can be used to adjust the volume as well as change program settings for different listening scenarios.

There are benefits to using sound waves as a communication channel for other body worn devices apart from hearing aids. The limited transmission range of high frequency audio provides security through proximity as any potential attacker must be within close range and line of sight to conduct an attack. The prevalence of audio technology in personal electronic devices also has the potential for a universal communication medium across varying platforms.

As hardware on both the transmitting and receiving sides of the acoustic channel continues to develop for the core purpose of each technology, acoustic wireless communication will continue to improve as an option for controlling hearing aid technology and other body worn devices.

References

1 N. Oishi and J. Schacht, “Emerging treatments for noise-induced hearing loss,” Expert Opin. Emerg. Dr. 16, 235-245 (2011).

2 Hartley, D., E. Rochtchina, P. Newall, M. Golding, and P. Mitchell, “Use of hearing aids and assistive listening devices in an older Australian population” Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 21, 642-653 (2010).

3 S. Kochkin, “MarkeTrak VIII: Consumer satisfaction with hearing aids is slowly increasing,” The Hearing Journal 63, 19-20 (2010).

4 S. Kochkin, “MarkeTrak VIII Mini-BTEs tap new market, users more satisfied,” The Hearing Journal 64, 17-18 (2011).

5 S. Kochkin, “MarkeTrak VIII: The key influencing factors in hearing aid purchase intent,” Hearing Review 19, 12-25 (2012).

 

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