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Free app turns phone into a hearing aid

Researchers at Essex University have developed a free mobile app that turns an iPhone or iPod into a hearing aid.

The BioAid app is said to replicate the complexities of the human ear, unlike standard hearing aids that amplify all sounds.

BioAid, which is available on iTunes, has been developed by Prof Ray Meddis of Essex’s Department of Psychology with Nick Clark, formerly a Research Officer in the Department and Dr Wendy Lecluyse of University Campus Suffolk.

According to its developers, BioAid is a multi-channel device where sounds are input through the mobile device’s microphone and then filtered into frequency bands. Each band is processed separately and the output from each channel is combined to make the output that is delivered to the device’s earpieces.

Unlike standard aids that have a single setting, BioAid has six fixed settings each of which has four fine-tuning settings allowing the user to find the perfect match for their impairment.

In a statement, Prof Meddis said, ‘People with hearing impairment very often withdraw from public life. Even if they have a hearing aid, the technology is not sophisticated enough to offer a tailor-made solution to their impairment and in many cases people simply stop using them.

‘Sounds are a complicated mixture of different frequencies and hearing loss is usually a loss of sensitivity to some but not all frequencies. 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 like going to the pub, cinema or a birthday party intolerable.’

Clark added, ‘The mobile phone is a great platform for rapidly transferring hearing aid technology from the laboratory to the hands of the public. Standard hearing aids…are only dispensed by a professional after a hearing test. BioAid offers a simple alternative…The hearing test is replaced by an exploratory process, allowing users to find which setting works best for them. In the short term, people unsure about visiting a hearing care professional might be swayed to do so by BioAid, which can only be a good thing.’

As phones get smaller and technology continues to advance, the researchers believe the BioAid project has the potential to radically change the future of hearing devices.

Professor Meddis said, ‘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.’

The development of BioAid, which has been funded by the EPSRC and hearing technology manufacturer Phonak, is part of a research project to influence the future of hearing aids.

The researchers say they are keen to hear about people’s experiences using BioAid so that they can continue to perfect the technology. Click here for more information.


Readers' comments (9)

  • "Unlike standard aids that have a single setting, BioAid has six fixed settings each of which has four fine-tuning settings allowing the user to find the perfect match for their impairment."

    NHS standard hearing aids allow 2 settings now - they are all digital...

    "In a statement, Prof Meddis said, ‘People with hearing impairment very often withdraw from public life. Even if they have a hearing aid, the technology is not sophisticated enough to offer a tailor-made solution to their impairment and in many cases people simply stop using them."

    Bit of a strange statement! I certainly haven't withdrawn from public!

    I've had many hearing aids over 27 years and I've learnt not to mess around with them - they are temperamental at the best of times. I'd rather leave the frequencies up to professionals...

    Btw - only iPhone? If it was on Android I'd give it a go

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  • Hello Chris. We put your query about the availability of BioAid on Android to the team developing it. Prof Meddis told us, 'No to Android for the present. It presents all kind of technical difficulties. With Apple the hardware and software are fully integrated. This is not always the case with Android. However, I am sure that there will be a release at some time in the future.'
    Nick Clark kindly provided this response, 'I get asked about an Android port frequently. I targeted the iPhone originally due to its superior audio latency. Android may have caught up in this respect now, so a port may be possible. The core algorithm is open source, so anyone would be able to make their own implementation if they wish. I have no plans to do so in the immediate future unless there is significant interest in the iOS version.'

  • Pleasing to read Chris not letting hearing impairment get in the way of living life. However, the same can't be said for myself. Noisy places are now actively avoided as its almost impossible to hear what people are saying.

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  • re: anonymous 28 mar 2:40

    BioAid is designed particularly with your problem in mind if it is used with sound attenuating ear buds. For many with a hearing impairment, too much noise is the problem. BioAid uses instantaneous compression to protect you from sudden or sustained loud noises. Do give it a try and let us know how you get on.

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  • It is good to see someone taking hearing impairment seriously, and this sounds like a good step on the road forward. (Just a shame I don't use an iPhone!)
    I think that the ability to have a hearing aid with multiple settings to suit different sound environments would be a good thing. A professionally set-up aid is pre-set to (only) one compromised setting. Whilst this might suit most occasions, it won't suit all.

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  • What an interesting article and idea. However, Im concerned there is no reference to a longitudal study that backs up the claim that the app will be any different to a hearing aid. That is, the article claims people stop using hearing aids and avoid situations. Is the app any different? I expect not. Also, the article makes a mockery of the heairng aid technology and the well qualified professionals that fit them. Sorry, Im not a believer that this app is much more that a fun tool. Suggesting it would replace a medical device is a rather large claim.

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  • There are Untruths in this piece:
    1)
    '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 like going to the pub, cinema or a birthday party intolerable.’

    Not so; the hearing aids of today don't amplify loud sounds and do amplify medium and soft-level sounds. Also the hearing aids of the past many years, oh, say 20 years, have had different bands of frequencies and levels of sound modified.

    2)
    'Unlike standard aids that have a single setting,'
    This is just false. False advertising for the Bio product. It may be useful in research and helping to improve sound technology, but with this type of article offering erroneous information, I mean Why?

    3)
    Who wants to use a pad or hand-held device to hear?

    4)
    Of course a larger device would/could offer greater fidelity of sound than the very-small ear-level devices available now. Most people want their microphone where the ear is, and most people want something that is not easily seen . . .



    Sincerely,
    J Nousak, Ph. D.
    Audiologist

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  • I don't care how it looks, so long as it will let me hear over the noise. My aids can't do that. I tried the app today and it worked very well.

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  • I am a person with hearing impairment. I agree with the statement.
    ‘People with hearing impairment very often withdraw from public life. Even if they have a hearing aid, the technology is not sophisticated enough to offer a tailor-made solution to their impairment and in many cases people simply stop using them.

    ‘Sounds are a complicated mixture of different frequencies and hearing loss is usually a loss of sensitivity to some but not all frequencies.The very loud sounds that can make social situations like going to the pub, cinema or a birthday party intolerable to the persons with hearing impairment.




    Also I agree the comment by Nousak J.

    Commonly the hearing aid adjustments are done by a professional and the hearing test even done by a professional Both of them do their professional job by depending on the data given by the person with impairment, Who is not a professional at all and a person with deviated emotional feelings due to the impairment itself.
    So I believe you in developing this application for iphone as if it has to be adjusted by a non professional in hearing impairment like me.
    I expect its cost will also affordable to us.
    Kindly use and include the basic facts in my comment.
    Good luck! we are eagerly waiting for you.

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  • Android phones are now outselling Iphones at an increasing rate. If and when ur app is android ready I and many of my friends would be seriously interested to use it.

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