08.05.19

Device controlling smart hearing aids on the horizon says Stanford scientist

Hearables

A new wave of smart hearing aids capable of recognising stress and controlling lighting and thermostats could be on the market within five years, using deep-learning tools to monitor pulse rates with optical or electrical sensors.

Poppy Crum, chief scientist at Dolby Laboratories and adjunct professor at Stanford University coined the term ‘hearables’; she said “The ear is like a biological equivalent of a USB port. It is unparalleled not only as a point for “writing” to the brain, as happens when our earbuds transmit the sounds of our favourite music, but also for “reading” from the brain. Soon, wearable devices that tuck into our ears will monitor our biological signals to reveal when we are emotionally stressed and when our brains are being overtaxed. When we are struggling to hear or understand, these devices will proactively help us focus on the sounds we want to hear.”

She added “They’ll also reduce the sounds that cause us stress, and even connect to other devices around us, like thermostats and lighting controls, to let us feel more at ease in our surroundings. They will be a technology that is truly empathetic”

Smart hearing aids could monitor mental efforts by tracking brain waves, identifying when the user is struggling to hear and adjusting the signal-to-noise ratio and directionality of built-in mics to make it easier for users to understand what nearby people are saying, distinguishing friends from patrons who could be muted based on ‘audio fingerprints’ that the device could collect.

Crum added “Artificial neural network chips coming soon from IBM, Mythic and other companies will often allow intensive processing to be carried out in a hearable itself, eliminating the need for an Internet connection and allowing near-instantaneous reaction times. Occasionally the hearable will have to resort to cloud processing because of the complexity of an algorithm. In these cases, 5G cellular, which promises median speeds in the hundreds of megabits per second and latencies in single-digit milliseconds, will potentially reduce the latency to as little as tens of milliseconds.”