Daily Updates, Future Ear Radio

The Future of Hearing Technology (Future Ear Daily Update 5-14-19)

The Future of Hearing Technology

This past weekend, I was invited by the organization, Speech-Language & Audiology Canada, to present at its annual conference held in Montreal on the topic of what the future of hearing technology will look like across the 2020’s. I presented alongside Dr. Gurjit Singh who is a senior research audiologist and program manager at hearing aid manufacturer, Sonova. The two of us presented for 35 minutes each, which was then followed by a fireside chat and Q&A from the audience of hearing healthcare professionals. The session was moderated by clinical audiologist, Remington Shandro.

Myself, Remington and Gurjit during the fireside chat

My presentation was broken into three portions that all circulated around a central theme: all in-the-ear devices are becoming computerized. Nearly everything is trending toward being a hearable. The first potion focused on understanding the question, “why now?” During this part, I laid out a series of consumer tech trends, hearing aid trends, and the innovation occurring within the devices that is making for certain advancements feasible. For example, pointing out the standardization of Bluetooth hearing aids across the past five years, and then extrapolating on the various new use cases that said standardization will allow for and the feasibility of multi-functional in-the-ear devices.

Thanks to Bluetooth standardization, we’re beginning to see multi-functional hearing aids enter the market and be widely adopted

The second portion begins to look at two sets of use cases that I believe will increasingly enhance the value proposition of the devices – voice computing and biometric sensor tech. If you’ve been following my blog or my twitter feed, then you know I am passionate about voice computing, and so anytime I present on hearables, I always try to make the audience aware of the significance of having our smart assistants right in our ear-worn devices. I typically use the Jobs-to-be-Done framework to illustrate the point that much of what we rely on our smartphones for, and before that our laptops and PCs, will migrate to our voice assistants.

Duplex on the web is a very good example of how this shift to offloading our “grunt work” to our smart assistants will look as our smart assistants mature as a technology.

In addition to focusing to voice computing, I also spend time talking about biometric sensors and the idea of converting one’s hearable into a biometric data collector and preventative health tool. Building off the facts I previously laid out around the underlying technology trends, I touch on the idea that certain bio sensors have only recently become miniature enough to be fit onto an in-the-ear device. These sensors allow for all types of data to be captured, which today can detect health risks such as atrial fibrillation and pulmonary embolisms, or whether a person has fallen down (which is a huge driver of hospital visits for older adults). As these sensors continue to shrink in size and become capable of capturing a wider variety of data, we’ll likely view the devices as tools to help keep us healthy by alerting us of potential dangers happening inside our bodies.

Combing it together
Combining smart assistants with our biometric sensors to assess what’s going on with our data and ultimately share it with our physicians (or the physicians’s smart assistant counterpart).

Finally, the last portion combines this all together to answer the question, “why does this convergence toward hearables matter?” For hearing healthcare professionals who by-and-large deal with older adults (age tends to be one of the leading indicators of hearing loss), we’re witnessing an evolution with the devices to becoming something so much more profound than an amplification tool. When it comes to voice computing, I point out the fact that older adults are one of the fast growing groups adopting this technology. Adults ages 55-75 years old are among the early adopters – when have we ever seen something like that? And it makes sense! Voice is so great because it’s conducive to the entire age spectrum – it’s natural and not limiting like mobile might be for someone who has poor vision or dexterity.

Older Adult Voice Adoption
Adults 55-75 years old are among some of fastest adopters of smart speakers

In addition, the transformation into a preventative health tool could turn out to be essential to our aging population. Every day, 10,000 US baby boomers turn 65 years old, and will continue to until 2030. Using a combination of AI and sensor-laden hardware, such as a hearable, will help to serve as a guardian to one’s health. These devices can do so much more than even a few years ago, and the trends are not slowing down. We’ll continue to see advancements with the components housed in the devices, and as the tech giants all aim their sights at the ear, we’ll likely see Apple, Amazon, Google, etc drive a lot of innovation that is duplicated by other manufacturers, and then ultimately reaped by the consumer.

It was awesome having the opportunity to bring all the concepts I write about to life. I can’t thank the SAC team enough for inviting me out to present on my thoughts around hearable technology. These are fast-changing times, so it’s great to share some of the trends that I follow closely, with busy professionals who will ultimately be impacted by the changing nature of these devices. I firmly believe that these devices are going to only become more and more compelling to the end user as these new use cases and all the technology that goes into the devices, mature.

Oh, and by the way, Montreal is really cool too. 10/10 will go back!

-Thanks for Reading-


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