Hearing with Your Tongue

Putting words into your mouth, literally.

Courtesy: Colorado State University

Odd but intriguing research is underway at Colorado State University. Engineers are developing a mouth piece that can transmit the sensation of sounds to the tongue.

As anyone who has savoured a fine meal knows, the tongue is rich with sensory nerve cells.  What if those cells could also be used transmit sound, or at least an interpretation of sound, to the brain bypassing the ears completely?

That’s concept the CSU researchers are working on and they produced this video to show how it might work.

Before There Was Radar There Were Great Big Hearing Aids

A German observation post, 1917.  The ear horns were used to detect the sound of incoming enemy aircraft and to help spot them, the goggles acted like binoculars.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau led commemorative services this week to mark the 100th anniversary of The Battle of Vimy Ridge in World War 1.

Vimy Ridge has come to symbolize Canada’s coming of age.  For the first time Canadians from all across the country fought together under Canadian command.  Their decisive victory over the Germans cost 3,598 Canadian lives.

In honour of the occasion here’s something a little different.  The following pictures depict a very odd type of hearing aid that first appeared on the battlefields of World War 1.

This was a war when fighter planes and bombers made their debut.  It was also a time before the invention of radar so the best way to detect incoming enemy aircraft was to listen for the sound of their engines.

Of course, the further away you could hear them the better you could prepare so these early warning “acoustic listening devices” were developed.  Here are some weird and wonderful examples:

This Czech device was tested by the Dutch military.  They concluded it had “fundamental deficiencies”.

 

 

 

This Dutch device called “The Personal Parabola” is one of my favourites. Although this soldier apparently doesn’t seem too thrilled with it.
This huge double trumpet system was deployed in 1921 at Bolling Field, an airbase in Washington DC.
These Japanese detectors were nicknamed “War Tubas” and are seen here being inspected by Emperor Hirohito in 1935.

The “acoustic detection” era ended with the development of radar in WW2.

Great Video Explains Hearing Loss

Do you want to know why you are losing your hearing?   This short video explains clearly and simply what is happens to your auditory system as age, noise and disease take their toll.  Highly recommended.

A couple of notes:  It was produced by Signia (formerly Siemans), a hearing aid maker.  And I have turned on the closed captions.

Wearing a Halo

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – Arthur C. Clarke

There is no good time to suffer from hearing loss but there’s no better time than now for being able to cope and compensate.  The technology of today’s hearing aids truly does seem like magic.

If you want proof put on a pair of Starkey‘s Halo2s.  First, their bluetooth connectivity is remarkable.  That should come as no surprise.

Starkey’s ELI (2005)

Back in 2005 Starkey introduced ELI, the world’s first bluetooth enabled hearing aid.  (That was two years before the iPhone was unveiled.)  So they have a lot of experience to build on.

As you can see on the left, ELI was an ungainly looking device.  Note the dangling black cube which was the bluetooth radio.

Their latest model the Halo2 is, by comparison, light and sleek.  Thanks to 12 years of miniaturization, the bluetooth radios are tucked inside out of sight along with a set of powerful microprocessor chips.  It’s a smart hearing aid designed for smart phones.

Continue reading “Wearing a Halo”

Bluetooth and a Birthday

Smartphone apps have changed the way we cope with hearing loss. What’s next?

This is an auspicious day for those of us with hearing loss.  Steve Jobs likely wasn’t thinking much about hearing aids when he stood on stage ten years ago and held up that very first iPhone.

January 9, 2007

As he touted its revolutionary features he made a passing reference to its bluetooth capability. At the time bluetooth was used primarily to connect mobile phones with car systems and earpieces.

A decade, and one billion iPhones later, bluetooth now puts the power to connect, control and adjust hearing aids in the palm of your hand.  Every major hearing aid maker now offers bluetooth apps for both iPhones and Android devices.

So what’s next? Continue reading “Bluetooth and a Birthday”

Mind Reading Hearing Aids?

Connecting your hearing aids and your brain.

What’s going on between your ears when you’re losing your hearing? Emerging research is beginning to give us some revealing, and disturbing answers about brain function and hearing loss.  But it also offers some hope.

brain-scan
Credit: Anu Sharma

First the bad news:  Take a look at this picture.

On the left, is the brain of a person with normal hearing and the areas that process sound are lit up as they should be.  But on the right is the brain of a person with mild hearing loss.  As you can see there’s less activity and what there is has shifted to other areas. Continue reading “Mind Reading Hearing Aids?”

The Future of Lip Reading

Will your next hearing aids have cameras? New research on lip reading by artificial intelligence suggests that, and more is on the way.

“Read my lips.”  That’s a lot easier said than done.  It’s a difficult skill to master in part because only about 30% of speech is considered “visible”. Even the best lip readers can only understand somewhere between 40% and 60%, and those figures are open to question.

Put another way, it means that about half the time they are wrong.  A point illustrated by an episode of “Seinfeld” where Jerry is dating a deaf woman who relies on lip reading.  He asks her out, and offers to pick her up, “How about six?”.  She looks angry, offended and then leaves.  Jerry discovers later that she thought he had said “sex” instead of “six”.

Now comes news that the University of Oxford in partnership with Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence program has come up with a system that may help clear up the confusion.

Their AI system was taught to lip read using some 5,000 hours of BBC television clips.  The system scanned people’s lips learning to read them, and it got better and better at it.  In fact, the AI correctly “read” about 47% of what was being said without making a mistake.  By comparison human lip readers barely managed to get 12% right.

You can try it yourself.  Here is one of the silent BBC clips.

Courtesy: Oxford
Courtesy: Oxford

The AI scanned inside the red square and produced these captions.

Courtesy: Oxford
Courtesy: Oxford

It’s a breakthrough that opens up some intriguing possibilities according to another team of researchers at Oxford who are working on a similar system called LipNet.

‘Machine lip readers have enormous practical potential, with applications in improved hearing aids, silent dictation in public spaces, covert conversations, speech recognition in noisy environments, biometric identification, and silent-movie processing.’ -LipNet Research Report

By parsing that statement you can imagine a few scenarios:  One day you may be able to look at your phone and mouth a command to Siri without speaking.  Or you might point your phone’s camera at someone in a noisy room, and have what they are saying dictated directly into your hearing aids via bluetooth.

More ominously it may offer new secret surveillance tools that can “listen” in on distant conversations.  Combine that with facial recognition software and you have a great plot twist in a spy thriller.

In the meantime, a few tips on lip reading.  Actually, the correct term these days is “speech reading” because it involves reading not just lips but facial expressions and gestures.

Anyone with hearing loss is already something of a speech reader since your brain is constantly searching for clues about what is being said.  Your may notice how much easier it is to understand someone if they are facing you directly and in a well lit space.

So to a large extent it’s intuitive but it’s also a skill that can be improved. For online training, try Lipreading.org.

 

 

Apple’s Agenda

Your hearing aids and your phone. Apple and Android are making the connection.

On October 27, 2016 Apple threw the switch on its new “accessibility” website.  In fact, it was the first item on the agenda for CEO Tim Cook’s presentation.  Of particular interest to those of us with hearing loss is the section on bluetooth connectivity between iphones and hearing aids.

This technology has proven indispensable to me.

(For more on how it’s changed my life see my recent review of the Oticon OPN)

Iphones have built-in software that uses bluetooth to send sound directly to your hearing aids. The sounds around you are then automatically lowered, and the sound from your phone is adjusted by your hearing aids to deliver the audio it has been programmed for to compensate for your hearing loss.

The result is much clearer sounding phone calls, music and alerts.

At last count, about 44 models of hearing aids from various manufacturers have bluetooth capability and are compatible with iphone.

Hearing aid makers also offer their own free iphone apps which let you control your hearing aid settings, such as the volume, using your phone.  You can also check your battery levels.

One very cool feature is called “listen live”, which pipes the sound from the phone’s mic into your hearing aids.  That can be a handy option as this new video from Apple demonstrates.

Apple “Live Listen” video

For more on how it all works check out:

Connecting Hearing Aids

For those of you with Android phones, the story is a little more complicated since there is such a great variety of manufacturers.  The best advice is to check out the website of your hearing aid maker and see if their app is compatible with your phone.