Editor’s Note: As healthcare technology and consumer electronics devices continue to morph into new and exciting product categories, hearing care professionals are taking a more active role in their application. One of the most well-respected audiologists in the profession, Barry Freeman, attended last week’s CES in Las Vegas and submitted this eye-opening report for the Hearing News Watch:

 

By Barry Freeman, PhD

barry freeman phd

Barry Freeman, PhD

If you ever want to see capitalism and entrepreneurism at their finest, you should visit the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  That’s where I was last week in Las Vegas.  There were more than 3,800 exhibitors displaying products in almost 2.5m square feet of floor space to an estimated 170,000 attendees, 50,000 from outside the U.S.  CES seemed to touch on every major global industry including hearing and balance care.  The message to me was clear, audiologists need to move beyond the recent trend of making hearing aid sales the center of our universe and begin to embrace a new evolution of technologyfor prevention, diagnosis, and management of hearing and balance.

Among the exhibits were tele-health systems permitting better access to patients as well as people who are seeking better information on hearing and balance. ASHA, for example, had a busy booth giving away hearing protection and information about the effects of noise on hearing with a brochure they developed in cooperation with the Consumer Electronics Association. 

I also spent time talking with representatives from ADA who recognized the current and future needs of clinical practice and an effort to attract these businesses to ADA meetings.  HLAA was there exploring advancements that would enhance the lives of their hearing impaired members and I had fascinating discussions with Global Directors of Accessibility for companies like AT&T and IBM.  These folks spend their days exploring technological advancements needed for people with special needs like hearing loss.

 

Hearing Industry Presence at CES

 

Two companies who often exhibit at Audiology meetings also had a presence at CES.  GN Resound had a booth with their Audiology training team talking about new advancements in amplification and connectivity to iPhone compatible products.

ZPower, the independent developer of a rechargeable battery system compatible with many diverse hearing aids, was a CES 2016 Innovation Awards Honoree.

It is difficult to single out specific products for audiologists but, when discussing products and services with other audiologists who also attended the CES, these products seemed to generate some interest:

 

  • If you have not seen the Dash from Bragi, you need to check it out. This hearable combines communication with music and health biometrics.
  • Revol is a Canadian start-up was the #1 fundraiser on Kickstarter, raising more than $2.5m for custom fit wireless earphones. They have developed a product that custom molds to the ear through an app on your phone.
  • Ashley Chloe has developed wireless Bluetooth headphones they call the “Helix Cuff” blending a stylish wearable with a functional hearable.
  • Aftershockz offer headsets for athletes using bone conducted sound transmission.
  • Stephen Ambrose at Asius Technologies has developed what he terms “in-ear technology that safely delivers a louder, more spacious and richer sound – while avoiding the 77% increased risk of hearing loss from earbuds.” The performance of this system is presented in the literature with articles co-authored by Todd Ricketts, Ph.D.
  • United Sciences displayed laser scanning of the ear to make custom molds. A confirmed rumor at CES was that United will be partnering with one of the hearing aid manufacturers to place systems in the offices of audiologists before the end of 2016.
  • Although VERT currently offers a system to enhance the balance and skills of athletes, there is nothing to prevent this type of technology to be adapted for vestibular or fall management program.
  • ZPower, the developer of silver-zinc rechargeable micro-batteries for hearing aids, and On-Semiconductor, a publicly traded global manufacturer of power management semiconductors widely used in the hearing aid industry, introduced the HPM10 power management circuit for hearing aids. This is a new Power Management IC (PMIC) that provides a high-performance solution for rechargeable batteries in hearing aids and cochlear implant devices.[1][2]

 

Is it Time to Put CES on Your Calendar?

 

The Russian/Israeli company Alango Technologies, which had a booth at CES, also plans to showcase their hearable products at AudiologyNow in April. Alango is bring to market to devices that may have appeal to hearing care professionals. One is HearPhones , which is a reference design, licensable to Bluetooth headsets manufacturers who want to add an advanced hearing enhancement and assistive listening functionality to their products.

Another notable device from Alango is called SALT – short for Smart Assistive Listening Transceiver. The SALT is a neck-worn device that can be paired with off-the-shelf earphones to provide the end-user with customizable amplification.

Audiologists should pencil in future CES meetings as we move away from dependence on the sale of hearing aids and move more broadly into providing a full scope of hearing and balance services.

 

Barry Freeman, PhD, is the VP of Business Development for ZPower. He has served the global Audiology community for over thirty-five years and is a past president of the American Academy of Audiology. Prior to joining ZPower, he was the CEO and President of Audiology Consultants, Inc. (ACI), a private audiology consulting firm based in South Florida. Prior to ACI, Dr. Freeman was the Senior Director of Audiology and Education for Starkey, Inc., and an educational consultant for the Starkey Hearing Foundation and its partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative. 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. HPM10 is responsible for generating the voltage needed by hearing aids and it manages the charging algorithms so that hearing aids can be rechargeable with an optimized number of charging cycles.
  2. Disclosure: Dr. Freeman is the VP of Business Development for ZPower

3 Responses to A Report from the 2016 Consumer Electronic Show

  1. Patrick Brophy says:

    What about a hearing aid (app?) in your smartphone (with updates) with wireless earphones instead of relying on tiny breakable hearing aids for all types of deafness.

  2. Dick Blinzler says:

    Interesting –but would like more info regarding what the industry is doing to allow a person to hear.
    Hear better in all environments, hear a person talking across the room.
    And thanks

  3. Cynthia Compton-Conley, Ph.D. says:

    Nice review, Barry. CES provides the opportunity for presentations. It would do us well to educate attendees about the needs of people with hearing loss as well as our technological needs as providers. There are so many innovative people/companies out there now. The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) also hosts other conferences that are very interesting such as CTA Digital in NYC.