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What do you think the future has in store – will robots perform hearing tests? Let’s explore the big trends and technologies seen at the Consumer Electronics Show 2018, which are on their way to our industry.
In the past decade, hearing aids have changed enormously. From basic digital devices, we’ve exponentially increased their processing power. Now, they can scan the whole sound environment 100 times every second and reduce noise before delivering it. Alongside these huge leaps in their audiological capabilities, hearing aids have become Internet-connected and Made For iPhone. And just very recently, hearing aids added rechargeability to their repertoire.
All this rapid development begs the question: What’s next for hearing aids?
To find out, let’s take a look at the trends from the latest world consumer electronics show, CES 2018.
The exhibition of the future – CES 2018
In January, the technology companies of the world descended on Las Vegas for a week-long extravaganza of exhibitions, displays and knowledge sharing. It is where companies and academics show off what they’ve been working so hard on; where technology leaders show how they see the future.
It is an invaluable opportunity to see how the people building the future of technology are doing just that. In short, it’s where you can get a handle on the coming trends.
Wearable technology brings more personalisation
Imagine being able to see exactly how much your client uses their hearing aid, on which setting, and in which environment! At CES 2018, hearing aids were just one of the wearable technologies on display that look set to measure and monitor people’s individual health.
We can look forward to wristbands that monitor your heartrate and blood pressure, and even technology that scans your brainwaves to detect mental states such as stress.These technologies will enable patients to gain deep health insights while they’re out in the real world, which they can pass on to healthcare professionals.
This may also enable hearing care professionals to see objective data on client preferences without them actually needing to say anything. What’s more, you would be able to document treatment outcomes in detail whenever insurance companies or any other external interest needs it.
Remote fitting is coming fast
As we see more challenges from over-the-counter products, the hearing care industry is responding by developing more flexible and convenient solutions.
E-health solutions such as remote fitting tools look set to be a key way of doing this, by making it easier for professionals to fine-tune people’s hearing aids. Because such solutions are remote, they have the potential to more precisely fit the clients’ individual needs, at times that suit both parties, and from the comfort of the client’s home. What’s more, such e-health solutions look likely to become more viable as hearing aid manufacturers develop their abilities to collect objective usage data.
Healthcare technology is becoming detailed and networked
With personal health monitoring technologies become more common, manufacturers are also looking into ways to network them together, which can bring dramatic synergies.
As data from different health sensors becomes available, it will be possible to analyse them together to find patterns and relationships between different datasets that healthcare professionals may otherwise be unaware of.
In this way, the hearing aid is set to become a powerful node in a whole ecosystem of personal health sensors, whose analysis can bring unprecedented insights. So after downloading a client’s real-world hearing aid performance, you may also be able to correlate their hearing aid use with their mental state, and even their geographic location. Or perhaps an algorithm will simply do it for you and identify areas for improvement.
And imagine if hearing aids might begin to automatically respond to their wearer’s mental status – perhaps by switching to a more aggressive noise-cancelling programme when they’re tired.
Hearing aids could become a multi-sensor wearable hub
As a network of health sensors proliferates, online hearing aids have the potential to deliver much more than just sound information, as they take on a wider role as health sensors.
For dependent people like children and elderly adults, hearing aids could contribute significantly to their healthcare.
For example, it wouldn’t take a huge technological leap to enable hearing aids to monitor the temperature in the middle-ear to detect infections in children, and then advise their parents.
And what if hearing aids could detect their own orientation in relation to the ground? They could then automatically notify a carer that a vulnerable person had fallen over or removed their hearing aids.
Artificial intelligence could add to this by automatically learning people’s behaviour patterns and predicting behaviour. They might learn to respond to anomalies – such as an unusual geographic movement combined with unusually low hearing aid battery power – to flag up a potential issue.
What about the more distant future?
If we look at how trends will affect hearing aids further down the line, two factors clearly stand out.
One is speed. The 5G networks are on the way, and with this super-fast, two-way Internet connection protocol embedded in our daily lives, hearing aids may be able to connect to the Internet without a smartphone bridge for processing. This could bring far greater processing power because it would be outsourced to the cloud, better network integration, and more automation. Imagine a hearing aid that could instantly translate other languages in real-time?! The possibilities are vast.
And the other thing? Power. As microchips become smaller and more efficient, the trend is towards lower energy use. It’s good news for battery lifetimes! As power demands fall, it may even be possible to make more use of energy capturing technologies, which could enable manufacturers to power hearing aids using only body heat or kinetic power generation.
The future looks bright. And while predictions are notoriously difficult to make, it’s safe to say that the future of hearing care is shaping up to be connected.