Advanced Medical Electronics proposes to develop an advanced wireless hearing aid that tracks user head movements and provides automatic audio source switching based on user focus. The proposed advanced hearing aid will enable users to utilize hearing aids in more diversified conversational situations. Hearing aids perform poorly in noisy environments due to a limited ability to filter out background sounds. Wireless companion microphones and consumer electronics adapters stream audio directly to the user's hearing aid and are more immune to background noise. While these devices have been proven to improve speech recognition in noisy environments, they create a source selection control issue that is burdensome and limits their utility when there is more than one source. The proposed enhancement will allow for automatic source switching by the user simply turning their head much like a person with normal binaural hearing would do. The hearing aid industry needs more advanced features such as this to encourage the more than 75% of people with known hearing loss who would benefit from hearing aids to utilize them. The proposed enhanced hearing aid will enable the user to use their hearing aid more effectively in common situations. The head tracking will be done using a very low power magnetometer integrated into the hearing aid similar to the ones found in modern smart phones. The system will automatically adjust the audio volumes from available sources including the hearing aids internal microphones based on which way was the head is facing. The additional power required by the magnetometer will be less than 10% of the normal operation and will only be consumed while streaming audio from a remote source. Battery life will not be significantly impacted. In phase I, AME will develop and evaluate a prototype system.
The primary complaint of hearing-aid users is their difficulty understanding speech in noise. Only 51% of hearing aid users report they are satisfied with their hearing aid performance in noisy environments. A proven method of improving the understanding of speech in noise is by capturing the sound at the source and transmitting it digitally to the hearing aid. Improvements in the ease of use of this technology will increase hearing aid satisfaction and adoption.