Researchers make a $1 hearing aid

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/09/24/researchers-make-a-1-hearing-aid.html

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Don’t you mean that it costs less than a dollar to make, but it sells for $2500?

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Not bad. Reading the headline I was expecting something along the lines of a repurposed vuvuzela.

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Curious to know how they came $.98. That amplifier is $9.95 off the shelf.

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Nice. Now I can keep cranking up the volume without fear of being unable to afford to hear when I’m old(er).

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I wonder if there’s some kind of assumption they used on their cost like: Assuming we’re able to build these en masse the bulk cost would be 98 cents.

Realistically i don’t know but i think my guess would be sound because purchasing off-the-shelf components one at a time is expensive.

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I can’t recall who it was (this was from back in the day when all hearing aids consisted of a box with a wire leading to a small speaker in your ear ) who said that they just used a button on a piece of string.
The button went in their ear, and the other end of the sting went in their shirt pocket. People assumed that it was a hearing aid and just yelled at them during conversations. Cost: About a nickel.

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A hearing aid is not just an amplifier. A good one is sculpted to a person’s hearing loss, and may include automatic gain control to deal with sounds ranging from a whisper to a roar.

Some of the cost is adjusting the hearing aid to the person.

Sure, old pocket hearing aids weren’t much better than an amplifier. But as things got smaller, they got better. Even 20 years ago they were analog, with a tiny set of adjustments inside, sort of like a graphic equalizer. But digital changed that. I suspect there’s little variation between low and high end hearing aids from a given manufacturer, just a difference in software.

In this day when so many have earphones anyway, I suppose something like this now fits in. Though for many, surely there could be an app for their iPod to use it as a hearing aid sculpted to their hearing loss.

Hearing aids now come in colors, so you no longer have to live with that pseudo fleshtone that doesn’t match your skin (even if you are white) or as a fashion statement.

They can also do bluetooth (well some), which is a real improvement.

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My first thought was about the source of the sound this unit picks up, and how well it filters out unwanted noise. What people are trying to hear comes from many directions, so a device on the chest seems limiting. It would be interesting to see demonstrations of this being used in a variety of settings.

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Seems like its the project case that is costing them 98 cents rather than all the components… :-/

I’m not even sure what the point of the devices is. Crappy, old style hearing aids already exist. There is not cost advantage to individually 3D printing project cases since it’s just a box.

As seen on TV:

($4.10 in quantity at Alibaba.)

:star:
"I have to start reading reviews before I buy things. This is not what they advertise on TV. All I could hear was my own breathing. I aimed it at the TV and it sounded like the TV was in a tunnel. Don’t waste your money. "

That seems like it is a problem inherent in any cheap “wear it around your neck” design, including the supposedly 98 cent one in the OP. Because of the mic placement, it’s as much an electronic stethoscope as it is a hearing aid…

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Very true! Binaural / spatial hearing depends on the signal sources/ear-holes being located within the head structure.

Seems like this project is about an exercise of demonstrating how cost effective and accessible a design can be using contemporary supply chains and low-power components, and it’s pretty a pretty impressive cost optimization exercise, granted there is likely more signal conditioning and processing that would be needed in a usable product.

Here’s the costed BOM in the link.

Table 1. Component costs of the LoCHAid

The MAX98306 amplifier (as an individual component rather than the Adafruit dev board which is ~10 bucks) is available at Mouser for $0.88 @ 2.5k qtys. So I’d believe it that it could be had for the BOM cost of $0.48 through an East Asian manufacturer with bulk buying power.

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Which is just software. Found an article from an audiologist about using Bluetooth earphones for hearing aids admitting that’s the way to go. Hopefully $2k aids will be a thing of the past shortly. $200 earphones have all the tech needed, even active noise cancellation.

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I’m especially interested to see that they’re referencing age-related hearing loss. Because that’s not just “make it louder”, like most “As Seen On TV” quality hearing aids or repurposed vuvuzelas provide. It’s also frequency equalization - you need the most amplification on higher-pitched sounds, less on lower (e.g. maybe 10dB at 1kHz, 20 at 2kHz, 40 at 4kHz.)

Bluetooth headphones have about enough horsepower to do that job; you can’t actually use Bluetooth as part of a useful hearing aid, because the latency is too high, and it works a lot better if you’ve got a microphone in each ear.

But if a single microphone is enough for you (because your main objective is talking to a person right in front of you), a smartphone with a wired headset has all the tools you need - a mike, a fancy digital signal processor, and output drivers. I’ve seen stereo mikes that work with mobile phones, but most of them use the headphone jack so you can’t also use them with a wired headset. Maybe somebody will make a Lightning or USB-C model that supports both, but the music market mostly assumes you’re going to use Bluetooth headsets because it doesn’t matter if recorded sound arrives 10ms or 100ms late.

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Would agree that Bluetooth latency makes it unsuitable for hearing aids. There’s a special Bluetooth Low Latency codec (supporting chipsets required on both ends, used in broadcast environments originally) that is advertised as having ~40ms of delay, which is supposed to be far superior to the standard BT implementations. Even 40ms would incur around one inch of percieved mis-location for moving objects in a range of things traveling at two feet per second, which could be bad for activities like washing dishes. (maybe the auditory system would adapt to compensate eventually?).

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