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.

Continue reading “Before There Was Radar There Were Great Big Hearing Aids”

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”

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.

 

Now Playing: “Closed Captions”

Having trouble hearing dialogue in movies theatres?
Try this great option.

I went to see “Bridget Jones’s Baby” the other day (don’t ask) and it was a very frustrating experience.  Although Renée Zellweger was as adorable as ever,  I could only make out less than half of what she said.

"What the hell is she saying?"
“What the hell is she saying?”

Her faux English accent didn’t help, and a soundtrack layered with music buried a lot of the dialogue.

But the rest of the audience seemed to be laughing on cue so the issue was obviously my hearing loss.  Even with the best hearing aids many of us struggle to hear dialogue in movie theatres.  There’s no point in complaining, “the actors are mumbling” or “the soundtrack mix is so muddy”. Face it.  It’s your hearing.

But then I discovered what I can only call the cinema world’s best kept secret.  It’s called the CaptiView system and it offers discreet, easy to read captions (or subtitles if you prefer) right there in any seat in the house. Continue reading “Now Playing: “Closed Captions””

Oticon’s New Opn Hearing Aids Reviewed

(Including a sneaky tip on how to use them to spy on your friends and family.)

My hearing is fading but my hopes are rising.  One reason I write this blog is because it enables me to keep up with the rapidly emerging technologies that hopefully will keep me one step ahead of the decline.

So when the venerable Danish company Oticon released its new Opn (pronounced “open”) I was intrigued. Continue reading “Oticon’s New Opn Hearing Aids Reviewed”

Better Microphones for Better Hearing Aids

“MEMS microphones have the potential of providing significant performance improvements in hearing aids”

There’s nothing more frustrating to me than trying to decipher speech in a place where my hearing aids are overwhelmed by the noisy hubbub in the background.  A party or a crowded restaurant are two vexing examples.

I am not alone since it’s the number one complaint of hearing aid users.  Continue reading “Better Microphones for Better Hearing Aids”

My Parents’ Struggle

My mother suffers from severe hearing loss. Hearing aids don’t help her much now. But, as he explains in this guest post, my father has found a simple device that helps them communicate.

By Charles Cook

My wife’s hearing has deteriorated to the point where even the most sophisticated modern hearing aid fails to provide relief. I’ve always been told that my voice, which won oratory medals at college, is very clear and strong.  But even so, now that we’re both in our eighties, conversation with her has become almost impossible.  Every other word is a challenge.

We had finally resorted to simply writing down important information.  But then I remembered a device we had used when her hearing first became a problem. Continue reading “My Parents’ Struggle”

Sound Ideas for Watching TV

“What did he say?” “The actors are mumbling.” Listening to TV can be challenging but there are options.

loud-tv3When you watch TV are your windows rattling? Do pictures on the wall vibrate? Are neighbours pounding on the walls?

For anyone with hearing loss, watching TV can be frustrating, and trying to decipher dialogue can sometimes be impossible. But instead of cranking up the volume to Metallica levels there are a few things you can try:

Continue reading “Sound Ideas for Watching TV”