The hearing aid industry is on the eve of a profound transformation. Artificial intelligence technology has significantly improved the user experience of hearing aids. Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are about to hit the market. Headphones and smart terminal companies are eager to try to enter the blue ocean of this technology. Audiologists and hearing aid companies should proactively welcome the beginning of a new era in the hearing aid industry. The China Hearing Medical Development Foundation has established a hearing aid expert committee and held a seminar on cutting-edge technology and future trends of hearing aids in Xiamen on May 11, 2019. The Chinese auditory scientist Professor Zeng Fangang, who has a world reputation, wrote a review for Hearing Magazine at the end of 2017, which reflects the development trend of hearing aids in the world.
2017 marks the beginning of a new era in the hearing aid industry. During this year, the FDA approved hearing aids for over-the-counter (OTC) sales over the counter. At the same time, breakthroughs in artificial intelligence technology have brought new hope for the improvement of hearing assistance in noisy environments.
OTC hearing aids are designed to provide a safe and effective solution for tens of thousands of patients with moderate to mild hearing loss. These hearing loss patients could have benefited from hearing aids, but gave up using hearing aids because of high costs or inconvenience in fitting. Undoubtedly, OTC hearing aids are as safe and reliable as the headsets, earbuds, and personal amplification systems on the market. With the continuous improvement of the core technology of OTC hearing aids, whether it is from microphones, speakers, or digital signal processing chips and noise reduction algorithms are almost the same as the most advanced hearing aid technology at present, so people are gradually worrying about the quality of OTC hearing aids reduce.
Scientific research is continuously confirming the effectiveness of OTC hearing aids. The article published by Professor Humes of Indiana University in 2017 used rigorous experimental design to eliminate human interference as much as possible, and reached a breakthrough but convincing. Conclusion-OTC hearing aids produce effects similar to those produced by qualified audiologists using high-end equipment.
But just as the hearing aid industry experts are discussing it enthusiastically, there are many important issues that need to be resolved. For example, how should the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plan and manage these OTC devices, and how audiologists should integrate these devices into their service system. Whether OTC hearing aids can penetrate the existing market and increase market penetration, we will wait and see.
A breakthrough in artificial intelligence technology has significantly improved the speech recognition ability of hearing aid users in a noisy environment. Deep learning derived from brain circuits has been successfully used in self-driving cars and defeated the best human Go players. In a speech noise environment, with a single microphone, deep learning can increase the word recognition rate from 29% to 84%, which is comparable to the word recognition rate of individuals with normal hearing in the same environment.
Although deep learning algorithms have not been applied to hearing aids due to power and real-time constraints, they have brought hope to the number one problem for hearing impaired people. Deep learning and other artificial intelligence technologies, such as virtual reality and augmented reality technology, can improve and enrich the listening experience of hearing impaired people and even normal hearing people. A smart hearing aid will provide a personalized, immersive, interactive listening experience such as sound scape analysis, sound protection and warnings, simulation of the best locations in the Disney lobby, and even real-time language translation. The biggest benefit of the widespread use of this kind of smart device is that it eliminates the long-term problems that people suffer when wearing hearing aids.
Link：Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are about to hit the market in 2020
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