Hearing aid app 'inspired' by biology

A free mobile app developed by U.K. researchers at the University of Essex enables an Apple iPhone or iPod to replicate the complexities of the human ear, according to an announcement from Essex.

Available for download on Apple's iTunes, BioAid doesn't simply amplify all sounds like standard hearing aids but has six fixed settings, each of which has four fine-tuning settings allowing the user to "find the perfect match for their impairment," states the announcement.

"Sounds are a complicated mixture of different frequencies and hearing loss is usually a loss of sensitivity to some but not all frequencies," Professor Ray Meddis of Essex's Department of Psychology says in the announcement. "Standard hearing aids amplify some frequencies more than others but BioAid is different because it also compresses the very loud sounds that can make [social situations] intolerable."

The app is seen by its developers as a low cost, hassle-free alternative to standard hearing aids, which can be expensive and require a hearing test. With BioAid, they say, anyone with an iPhone or iPod can enter into an exploratory process, allowing them to discover on their own which setting works best for them without the need for help from a hearing care professional.

"The mobile phone is a great platform for rapidly transferring hearing aid technology from the laboratory to the hands of the public," adds Nick Clark, a former research officer in the university's psychology department. The app leverages the iPhone's microphone, audio processing capability, and earphones. Although BioAid can be used with any kind of headphones or earpieces, its developers say they must be insertable earbuds that block out external sounds to fully benefit from the "loudness control" features of the app.

In addition, as mobile phones continue to get smaller and wireless technology continues to advance, researchers believe BioAid has the potential to radically change the future of hearing devices.

"With the BioAid algorithm and Wi-Fi technology, we could see dispensers able to remotely adjust the settings on a phone-based aid and even monitor use to ensure the user is getting the most out of it," argues Meddis, who foresees wearable wrist phones and tiny devices worn behind the ear.

Similarly, a 2012 market report raised the possibility of wearable technology that is "always on, always accessible and easily worn on the body, [typically with] real-time information access, data-input capabilities, local storage and some form of collaborative-communications ability." The report's list of wearable technology platforms includes watches, glasses, smart fabrics, contact lenses, small screens, rings and bracelets, hearing aid-like devices called "hearware," smart badges, wrist computers and even smart skin tattoos.

To learn more:
- read the University of Essex announcement

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