You Can Fix Your Hearing for $1
A team of researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a $1 hearing aid.
A collaborative effort from assistant professor Saad Bhamla and his team at Georgia Tech has produced a $1 hearing aid, and this concept is no joke. Currently, the average cost of a hearing aid is roughly $2,300, which, unfortunately, is out of reach for many citizens of the world. Called LoCHAid, the hearing aid uses a dollar’s worth of open-source parts and a 3D printed case and was designed so it can be assembled by anyone. Even better, it will provide most of the functionality from a regular hearing aid. Additionally, the project is expected to meet the World Health Organization’s requirements and targets for mild, age-related hearing loss.
Age-related hearing loss is common these days. As humans age, their ability to detect high frequencies slowly diminishes. It affects 226 million people worldwide for citizens aged 65 and older! Unfortunately, it’s projected to grow to a massive 900 million by 2050. People in developing countries in Asia and Africa are 4 times more likely than people from developed countries to suffer from hearing loss.
“The challenge we set for ourselves was to build a minimalist hearing aid, determine how good it would be, and ask how useful it would be to the millions of people who could use it. The need is obvious because conventional hearing aids cost a lot and only a fraction of those who need them have access,” said Professor Bamla.
This high cost is caused by many public and private insurance programs refusing to cover hearing aids in their schemes. There have been past attempts to create a cheaper, $300 hearing aid, but they don’t have the characteristics to treat hearing loss. Of course, LoCHAid can’t do everything that regular and expensive hearing aids do, but they can positively impact older people with hearing loss.
Soham Sinha, the paper’s author, was born in agrarian India and suffered from hearing impairments. His background inspired him to collaborate on this project, as he wanted to help others with hearing impairments who don’t have the money for current hearing aids.
To assemble the device, the team used open-source parts and a 3D printed case. The hearing aid is aimed towards hearing loss at higher frequencies and therefore doesn’t consider other types of hearing loss, which reduces the amount of sophisticated technology needed. In terms of looks, the hearing aid looks like headphones rather than a traditional hearing aid. Instead of using expensive digital processors signal processors, the team used digital filters. It’s powered by cheap AA or coin-cell batteries.
The hearing aid is also capable of amplifying high-pitch sounds by 15 decibels and filtering sudden and unexpected sounds like car horns and dog barks. It could also improve speech recognition by mimicking the quality heard by people without hearing impairments.
If these cheap, colorful devices take off, they could benefit many people on the brink of cognitive decline. Theoretically, if you treat hearing loss, you might modify those pathways and reduce the risk of dementia,” said Frank Lin, an ENT doctor at Johns Hopkins University. Lin was not part of the study.
Like any product, the LoCHAid has its flaws. For one, it cannot go out for production just yet, as it only meets five out of 6 of the World Health Organization’s product recommendations. Also, the product can only cater to treat specific hearing issues, so it can’t be used universally. Additionally, while it’s waterproof and shock-resistant, it’s only expected for the hearing aid to last for a year and a half.
“I thought owning a laptop and a cellphone meant I had the means to buy hearing aids, but then I realized how expensive they were. It was sobering,” said Bamla.
He recalls the moment when he couldn’t afford hearing aids for his grandparents. He wants hearing aids and other biomedical devices to be an accessible commodity to all consumers.
LoCHAid is truly a remarkable piece of tech. It shows us how technology can aid our world and solve important issues. The low price of this product will mostly cater to developing countries, but this product will not be limited to these countries. In my opinion, this product has the potential to revolutionize the industry and could eradicate the limitations of hearing impairments. The future for medical technology is bright, and countless lives will be improved by this invention.