Team to advance hearing instrument technology with Bluetooth Smart
Following the World Health Organisation's International Ear Care Day, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) and European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (EHIMA) have announced a memo of understanding. This partnership between the world's largest association of hearing instrument manufacturers and the largest wireless technology aims to develop a standard for new hearing aids, while improving existing features, and creating new ones such as stereo audio from a mobile device or media gateway with Bluetooth wireless technology.
With the recent revolution in smartphones, personal music players, TVs and tablets, tens of millions of people with hearing impairments are underserved as few hearing instruments offer direct connectivity to these devices. This means that many users are limited to what the manufacturer provides and cannot customise or add new functionality to the hearing aid.
Building on the proliferation of Bluetooth technology in the smart devices consumers already own, the addition of Bluetooth in hearing devices provides users with a customisable and higher quality hearing experience.
Additionally, the low power, intelligent connectivity provided by Bluetooth Smart brings about new scenarios to improve the user experience for those with hearing impairments. Today, however, no standardisation of these solutions exists.
'It is important that we connect to and serve all kinds of smartphones and multimedia sound signals,' said EHIMA secretary general, Soren Hougaard. 'In order to achieve that, we must define a standard everyone can implement. We want to avoid the situation that occurred in the market for videotapes in the 1980s where customers had to choose among three to five tape formats and corresponding VCRs. That was a nightmare!'
Currently, the only standard for wireless reception of audio signals in hearing aids is the telecoil, which dates back to the 1950s. This technology is difficult to incorporate into smartphones.
Furthermore, the number of installed loop systems that can transmit audio signals to hearing aids with telecoils varies greatly from country to country. As a result, hearing aid users have limited access to high quality audio signals from external sources.
Building on the existing Bluetooth standard that is widely supported in today's smartphones, tablets and personal computers will give more hearing-impaired users the same choice of products and opportunities as everyone else.
Added Mark Powell, executive director, Bluetooth SIG: 'It is really exciting to see Bluetooth technology used to improve people's lives in such a fundamental way, and to explore how Bluetooth Smart can improve current hearing instruments with its amazing power performance and enable entirely new ways for people to customise their hearing experience. We look forward to working with EHIMA to bring hearing technology into the Internet of My Things, connecting hearing aids and other personal sensor devices to a smartphone, tablet or PC, with the magic of Bluetooth and Bluetooth Smart.'
Bluetooth and Bluetooth Smart technology are crucial to transforming the hearing impaired user experience. Extending existing or developing a new hearing aid profile that allows streaming of audio sources at mono speech or stereo music quality is only the first step. Several use cases will be supported, including calling with a mobile phone, enjoying stereo audio from multi-media devices (music players, radio, television, etc.) and receiving broadcast audio information from public address and announcement systems.
This new hearing aid profile will be developed to meet the challenging power requirements of hearing aids, which have to operate with sub-miniature batteries.
The Bluetooth SIG and EHIMA members will further evaluate the feasibility for Bluetooth technology to accommodate hearing aid use case requirements, including compatibility, audio quality, security, and power within the Bluetooth SIG working groups.