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Can Hearing Aids be Smarter?

Person with hands to hears to hear better

Can Hearing Aids be Smarter?

An advanced hearing aid could impact more than 35 million in the U.S.

Dr. Mi Zhang, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, knows that people who use hearing aids rely on more than their earpieces. In fact, when they talk to people, they read lips, and when they are out in the world, they use physical cues. As Zhang described it, “If there is a delay in processing the audio, if those two sources don’t sync,”—which can occur with current hearing aids—“it makes you dizzy. It’s like the captioning being out of sync with the action in a movie.”

To fix the problem, Zhang is creating a smart hearing aid. It will use an algorithm to filter unnecessary noises out and compress the data (sound) in an instant—10 milliseconds or less—to sync the audio with the delivery source. Zhang’s smart hearing aids are almost ready: they have the acoustics and the compression ready for market, but they need the hardware.

Like most innovations, the process builds on itself. Next up for Zhang and his team: the final touches and a hearing aid that could impact, according to the Food and Drug Administration, the more than 35 million children and adults in the United States experiencing some degree of hearing loss.

Author: Liam Boylan-Pett

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