This project will develop a digital wireless streaming stereo audio system for the hearing impaired. Phase I has successfully demonstrated a novel technology that can be integrated fully into modern behind-the-ear hearing aids to receive audio from consumer electronics devices such as cell phones, televisions, stereos, and personal media devices. The system uses on a small transmitter that plugs into standard headphone jack to digitize and transmit the audio to the hearing aid. In hearing aids, capturing sound close to the source before it is combined with background noise offers better signal to noise ratio. In the case of consumer electronics devices, hearing aid users encounter difficulties with sound quality when using the integrated speakers of such devices. These devices often provide a standard audio output which offers a low noise signal. Existing methods to transmit audio signals to hearing aids from consumer electronics devices include Bluetooth, magnetic coupling (digital and analog), and FM. FM radios are prone to interference and distortion and are being replaced by digital wireless solutions. Bluetooth consumes too much power to be directly integrated into small hearing aids, so these solutions require larger batteries in modules external to the hearing aid. Magnetic coupling can be made low power but can only transmit for short distances. There are many reasons why previous connectivity systems have experienced poor adoption rates and most are related to the intermediate relay module found in current solutions. The proposed solution will be the first to eliminate this relay module to allow direct long-range transmission to a micro behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid. The proposed wireless technology will offer larger distances (15 ft.) than magnetic coupling solutions and lower power (less than 200uW) than all digital alternatives.
According to a Better Hearing Institute's (BHI) recent survey of 56,000 households, 31.5 million Americans have hearing loss. Hearing loss affects 1 in 10 Americans and 1 in 4 households. Furthermore while 95% of individuals with hearing loss could be successfully treated with hearing aids, only 23% currently use them. This project proposes to develop a low power, easy to use, hearing aid option that allows wireless transmission of audio directly to wireless enabled hearing aids from consumer electronics.