In the next instalment in our manufacturers’ insight series, BIHIMA spoke to Kim Tilgaard, Vice President of Discovery, Audiology and Embedded Solutions at Demant, who tells us about new technologies for the Bernafon Hearing Solutions…
Tell us about some of the technology priorities you’re working on right now?
At the moment our hearing aids are being developed with advanced signal processing that allows us to provide industry leading Audiology. We now look at the sound scenes and personalise the hearing solutions so you are able to filter out the signals you would like to listen to – while also removing the right amount of unwanted noise.
You need to identify the right sounds and signals and the right environment for each individual, and to do that in the moment is the key for the right hearing solution. So that’s our starting point.
And what about the future – what can we expect in the next 20 years?
Sensors are one of the areas that really excite me. They will be able to measure your brain activity so that in the future we will have a solution that senses what you want to listen to and steers the audiology device based on that brain signal; compensating the lost hearing for that person.
Temperature, pulse and movement, combined with Artificial Intelligence, will allow us to identify the signals and process them. This processing will be done on an individual basis but also using wider multiple person data, to create the right solution for that environment and for a specific person.
How far are along are you in creating hearing aids that use sensors for brain activity?
The solution we have today is already good. But with new sensors and AI we will be able to do even more. We’re investing a lot in it and are not far away. I’d say we’re looking at approx. 3 years before we reach a real breakthrough. And we’re talking 5-7 years for an entire solution that will understand even more about how different sensors and individual signals can be used in hearing solutions.
What are some of the market trends that will make these changes possible?
The key technology trends are AI, voice control, sensors and wireless. All of which will enhance the hearing solutions we will offer.
I also believe big data is something that is becoming more and more normal and can be used to make even better solutions. This market trend of sharing data is something we need to become comfortable with before it becomes mainstream. The legal aspect on the data must be considered; some are happy to share data because of the solutions and improvements it will make, but some are not because of perception as invasion of privacy. I don’t know which way it will go – but in all cases we need to ensure privacy and personal preferences.
I also believe many of our customers in the future will grow up with new technology, so they can see the benefit, are comfortable using it and will embrace it. I foresee two groups; those who are comfortable managing the technology, and those who are not.
What we try to do on the hearing side is create an aid that works without a lot of interaction. You can look at other products that require you to enter information and interact with them on a regular basis. I don’t foresee this happening with the hearing aid; instead we try to make it self-learning, to avoid this frequent interaction.
The market trend of voice interaction that you see being integrated into a lot of smart technology is something that will enter the world of hearing devices. Situations like talking to your phone and your car all reduce the need for an interface. This is the direction that hearing aids will take, so that it directly engages with you and you with it.
So where do audiologists sit in all of this technology?
An audiologist is essential to gather learnings and information from a user, what environments they are in, and how often they interact with others, so we can learn more about their needs and provide a better solution.
It’s important to get to know that person and collect data from them about their situation. An audiologist can then understand more via big data to advise appropriately.
I don’t foresee that we’ll be able to put on a hearing aid and just ‘plug and play’, because it is so individual and we all have different needs, plus the adjustment is so specific. To make a really successful unique fitting you need the assistance of an audiologist.
When you have a hearing loss you can’t hear your kids, you can’t engage, and the sounds you miss out on are so profound. If you really had a problem, you’d want the best possible solution, and this can’t be found over the counter as a person won’t get the most value out of it.
What excites you about the work you do?
What excites me is the new opportunity with sensors, data and AI; the use of a sensor to identify a person’s needs, is revolutionary.
There is so much new tech entering into the hearing aid business that we’ve not seen before.
The Internet of Things (IoT) opens up a lot of opportunity and this is what excites me every day working here. There’s so much potential in what we can do.
And when we can develop solutions and products that have a major impact on peoples’ lives, it really makes my day!
This interview was conducted by BIHIMA. We represent the hearing instrument manufacturers of Britain and Ireland, working in partnership with other professional, trade, regulatory and consumer organisations within the health care and charitable sectors. We raise consumer awareness about the latest hearing technology, and aim to influence government and policy makers to improve the lives of people with hearing difficulties.
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