https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/dont-believe-hype-ai-driven-world-still-long-way-off/

US Ear Device Patents in March 2019

People know, without conscious thought, that you can’t talk to someone if they’re asleep. Likewise, we naturally go to sleep or at least zone out if we don’t want to hear someone talking. These are examples of physiological “state” variables, in which the response (e.g., hearing/attending or not) is dependent only on our state of being, not on other processes.  This is obvious to us but is it obvious to Smart Things?  

 

The State of Us

 

The idea of Smart is to devise devices that assume responsibility for some of daily stuff we haul around in our heads (e.g., calendars, current state of the stock market, our to-do lists, etc.), thus freeing us up to be more productive or get more sleep.  Smart devices and their attendant systems can’t get very Smart unless they sense and understand our current state of being and adjust accordingly. No point to telling us the stock market news when we’re asleep, right?  And in that same state of sleep, it wouldn’t be Smart for hearing aids to crank up the volume, process the heck out of speech in noise, translate languages, or let us know we’re safe from falling.  We take these things for granted but Smart Things must be taught and then continually monitor what we’re up to.  

 

The State of Smart

 

Sony is on it with USPTO #10234936, which describes wearable devices that monitor individuals’ attention levels and workload in real time and trending over time. Devices described in the patent collectively measure state variable data (e.g., heart rate, body temperature), synthesize it with environmental sensors integrated into wearables (e.g., sound, location, external temperature), and feature it remotely.  Basically, the devices are asking “Is this a good time?” all the time. Besides assessing our state of availability and receptivity, the Sony patent envisions the Smart devices receiving information from our health records and questionnaires to augment the “attention level/mental workload evaluation.”

IBM’s patent #10243961  uses state variables to perform security checks before allowing access to wearable users’ financial and home systems. It does that by:

“…transmit(ing) a state inquiry to a wearable device registered to the user. The current state of the user is received from the wearable device, such as whether the user is sitting, standing, walking, sleeping, etc. If the system determines that the current user state allows the action to be performed at the site by the user, then the action is performed. “

Once IBM knows you’re you, it plans, at least theoretically, to monitor your healthy state of being for signs of  functional changes which could flag early health conditions including hearing loss.  Toward that end, IBM patent #10238333 (Daily cognitive monitoring of early signs of hearing loss) envisions a system that starts by:1

  •  obtaining baseline hearing ability
  • receiving, collecting and aggregating audio data for at least a month from one or more data collection devices.

Next, the patent identifies “indications of hearing loss” via AI analyses of the data by means never attempted by any audiologist. Anyone who’s done even a modicum of programming will recognize the way in which AI parses and proceeds with the “identification” process:

  •  “determine whether an emotion of the user and/or at least one noise caused an elevated speech volume,
    • wherein the emotion is determined based on a trait not utilized during normal speaking,
    • and wherein the trait is selected from the group consisting of:
      • a cracking voice of the user,
      • an emphasis on words that indicate the emotion,
      • an emphasis on words that indicate the emotion,
      • an emphasis on parts of words that indicate the emotion,
      • and combinations thereof;
  • identify at least one noise from the audio data from the group consisting of:
    • background noise,
    • ambient noise,
    • and combinations thereof;
  • normalize the audio data to:
    • account for the emotion of the user and the identified  noise,
    • discount the elevated speech volume accordingly, prior to storing the audio data to a computer readable storage medium;
  • analyze the stored audio data for one or more indicia of hearing loss; 
  • alert the user of the one or more indicia of hearing loss being detected in response to determining hearing loss that exceeds a predetermined threshold percentage of the baseline hearing.        

Whew. We should be thankful that it’s AI and not us doing this work, at least not consciously and 24/7.2 But, being theoretical and all, the patent never specifies any actual user interface. Something in the ear seems like a basic requirement, if only to measure sound at the input stage.  

 

The March 2019 List

 

Description

Patent Number

Assignee

Issued

Method and apparatus for fitting a hearing device

10219727

Sonova AG (Stafa, CH)

3/05/2019

System and method for eyelid stimulation

10219937

MED-EL Elektromedizinische Geraete GmbH (Innsbruck, AT)

3/05/2019

Ear cleaning device

10219951

Quest Products LLC (Pleasant Prairie, WI)

3/05/2019

Methods for controlled proliferation of stem cells / generating inner ear hair cells using 3-(pyridin-2-yl)-1H-indol-2-ol based compounds

10220041

Frequency Therapeutics Inc. (Woburn, MA)

3/05/2019

Integrity evaluation system in an implantable hearing prosthesis

10220201

Cochlear Limited (Macquarie University, NSW, AU)

3/05/2019

Method for controlling a hearing device via touch gestures, a touch gesture controllable hearing device and a method for fitting a touch gesture controllable hearing device

10222973

Sonova AG (Stafa, CH)

3/05/2019

Wearable audio device

10224019

Audio Analytic Ltd. (Cambridge, GB)

3/05/2019

Application controlled variable audio ear plugs

10224890

Sprint Communications Company LP (Overland Park, KS)

3/05/2019

Portable electronic system with improved wireless communication

10224975

Oticon A/S (Smorum, DK)

3/05/2019

Ear piece with pseudolite connectivity

10225638

Bragi GmbH (Munchen, DE)

3/05/2019

Hearing aid system

10225665

Green, Mason (Savage, MN)

3/05/2019

Method and hearing aid for frequency-dependent reduction of noise in an input signal

10225667

Sivantos PTE Ltd (Singapore, SG)

3/05/2019

Hearing assistance system with own voice detection

10225668

Starkey Laboratories Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN)

3/05/2019

Hearing system comprising a binaural speech intelligibility predictor

10225669

Oticon A/S (Smorum, DK)

3/05/2019

Method for operating a hearing system as well as a hearing system

10225670

Sonova AG (Stafa, CH)

3/05/2019

Tinnitus masking in hearing prostheses

10225671

Cochlear Limited (Macquarie University, NSW, AU)

3/05/2019

Sound processing for a bilateral cochlear implant system

10226624

Oticon A/S (Smorum, DK)

3/12/2019

Hearing aid and a method of operating a hearing aid system

10228402

Widex A/S (Lynge, DK)

3/12/2019

Wearable device obtaining audio data for diagnosis

10229754

Koninklijke Philips NV (Eindhoven, NL)

3/12/2019

Portable listening device system

10231044

Apple Inc. (Cupertino, CA)

3/12/2019

Off-ear and on-ear headphone detection

10231047

Avnera Corp (Beaverton, OR)

3/12/2019

Hearing aid comprising a beam former filtering unit comprising a smoothing unit

10231062

Oticon A/S (Smorum, DK)

3/12/2019

Binaural hearing aid system

10231063

Sivantos PTE Ltd (Singapore, SG)

3/12/2019

Method for improving a picked-up signal in a hearing system and binaural hearing system

10231064

Sivantos PTE Ltd (Singapore, SG)

3/12/2019

Spectacle hearing device system

10231065

GN Hearing A/S (Ballerup, DK)

3/12/2019

Hearing assistance device with balanced feed-line for antenna

10231066

Starkey Laboratories Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN)

3/12/2019

Hearing aid adjustment via mobile device

10231067

ARM Ltd (Cambridge, GB)

3/12/2019

Hearing device for being worn at least partly within an ear canal and a method for manufacturing such a hearing device

10231068

Sonova AG (Stafa, CH)

3/12/2019

Method for evaluating an individual hearing benefit of a hearing device feature and for fitting a hearing device

10231069

Sonova AG (Stafa, CH)

3/12/2019

Ear buds for headset

D842843

Fitbit Inc. (San Francisco, CA)

3/12/2019

Implant magnet system

10232171

Cochlear Limited (Macquarie University, NSW, AU)

3/19/2019

Device implantable under skin

10232185

Oticon A/S (Smorum, DK)

3/19/2019

Smart wearable devices and methods with attention level and workload sensing 

10234936

Sony Corporation of America (New York, NY)

3/19/2019

Deformable ear tip for earphone and method therefor

10237640

Apple Inc. (Cupertino, CA)

3/19/2019

Enhancing a listening experience by adjusting physical attributes of an audio playback system based on detected environmental attributes of the system’s environment

10237644

Apple Inc. (Cupertino, CA)

3/19/2019

Devices and methods for hearing

10237663

EarLens Corporation (Menlo Park, CA)

3/19/2019

Audio logging for protected privacy

10237664

Cochlear Limited (Macquarie University, NSW, AU)

3/19/2019

Canal hearing devices with improved seals

10237665

Sonova AG (Staefa, CH)

3/19/2019

Vibrotactile music perception wearable

10238150

Applicant: Bremer, Katja (Berlin, DE)

3/26/2019

Daily cognitive monitoring of early signs of hearing loss

10238333

International Business Machines Corporation (Armonk, NY)

3/26/2019

Ear wax removal device and methods thereof

10238545

Earways Medical Ltd. (Rosh Ha-Ayin, IL)

3/26/2019

Active hearing protection device and method therefore

10238546

EERS Global Technologies Inc. (Montreal AC, CA)

3/26/2019

Implantable medical device arrangements

10238871

Cochlear Limited (Macquarie University, NSW, AU)

3/26/2019

Composition and method for treating congenital cytomegalovirus induced hearing loss

10238599

The Regents of the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)

3/26/2019

Hearing device and methods for interactive wireless control of an external appliance

10242565

iHear Medical Inc. (San Leandro CA)

3/26/2019

Enhanced security using wearable device with authentication system

10243961

International Business Machines Corporation (Armonk, NY)

3/26/2019

Wearable wireless audio device

10244298

Piearcings LLC (Kansas City, MO)

3/26/2019

Methods and apparatus for wearable personal sound speaker systems

10244299

Applicant: Besgen, Sr., Christopher Michael (Ridgefield, CT)

3/26/2019

Instrument with remote object detection unit

10244300

Oticon A/S (Smorum, DK)

3/26/2019

Power management shell for ear-worn electronic device

10244301

Starkey Laboratories Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN)

3/26/2019

In-ear bluetooth headset

10244303

Shenzhen ATX Technology Co. Ltd. (Shenzhen, CN)

3/26/2019

Beamforming for a wearable computer

10244313

Amazon Technologies Inc. (Seattle, WA)

3/26/2019

Device monitoring for program switching

10244332

Cochlear Limited (Macquarie University, NSW, AU)

3/26/2019

Method and apparatus for improving speech intelligibility in hearing devices using remote microphone

10244333

Starkey Laboratories Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN)

3/26/2019

Binaural hearing aid system and a method of operating a binaural hearing aid system

10244334

Widex A/S (Lynge, DK)

3/26/2019

Pre-load feedback of a middle-ear coupler

10244335

MED-EL Elektromedizinische Geraete GmbH (Innsbruck, AT)

3/26/2019

S-shaped coupling spring for middle ear implants

10244336

MED-EL Elektromedizinische Geraete GmbH (Innsbruck, AT)

3/26/2019

Hearing instrument and method of providing such hearing instrument

10244337

GN Hearing A/S (Ballerup, DK)

3/26/2019

Method and apparatus for automatically identifying and annotating auditory signals from one or more parties

10244368

Eolas Technologies Inc. (Tyler, TX)

3/26/2019

Hearing Aid

D844146

Sonova AG (Stafa, CH)

3/26/2019


Footnotes

1 All bullets are loose paraphrases from the patent.

2 Intelligent, meticulous and repeated history-taking by observant clinicians could very well achieve the same results if we could afford the time and could entice adults with early-stage hearing loss to visit us regularly and pay for the privilege.  It’s also likely that this holds little appeal to clinicians or future patients/clients. 

 

 

Holly Hosford-Dunn, Hearing Health MattersHolly Hosford-Dunn, PhD, owned and operated a dispensing audiology practice in Tucson and was active in management of HearingHealthMatters.org through 2017.  She holds BA degrees in Communication Sciences, Psychology and Economics; MA in Communication Disorders; PhD in Hearing Sciences. Following post-doctoral work at Max Planck Institute (Munich, DE) and Eaton-Peabody Auditory Physiology Lab (Boston), she joined the Stanford medical school faculty as director of audiology. She has authored/edited numerous text books, chapters, journals, and articles and taught Marketing and Practice Management in a variety of academic settings. She continues to consult and write on topics related to hearing health care vis-à-vis consumer demands, professional training, technological advancement, capital investment, industry consolidation, regulatory control, product and service distribution, and strategic pricing.



About HHTM

HHTM's mission is to bridge the knowledge gaps in treating hearing loss by providing timely information and lively insights to anyone who cares about hearing loss. Our contributors and readers are drawn from many sectors of the hearing field, including practitioners, researchers, manufacturers, educators, and, importantly, hearing-impaired consumers and those who love them.

2 Comments

    1. Thank you for admiring the list. We wish we had a cool algorithm to provide for curating the list, but we don’t. After a lot of trial and error, the list continues to be compiled by casting a broad net, using terms like audio, hear, ear, etc, then going through item by item to keep or discard. Next, searching for relevant patents that don’t contain the search terms, going through a bunch of searches by individual companies that include the usual suspects as well other companies we stumble across. Finally, another round of search based on gut feels emanating from what surfaced in the first few rounds. There’s got to be a better way but so far we haven’t found it. If you do, please share back!

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