The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show just wrapped up in Las Vegas, and several hearing aid manufacturers released some new technology.

Oticon, one of the big six hearing aid manufacturers, announced the world’s first hearing fitness tracking tech with their new HearingFitness app, meant to be used with their Opn line of hearing aids. This actually won an Innovation Award for this year’s CES! My general impression is that the app is meant to positively reinforce the benefit of wearing their aids, as tracking tends to improve mental acuity and keep users socially engaged.

The new app will track hearing aid use, listening environments and other behavior, gathering and collating data with measurements of heart rate, sleep patterns and other health markers for other wearable devices. The new technology is designed to give Opn users advice and encouragement on ways to hear better, protect their hearing and stay healthier. (source)

This is especially important for the elderly population with age-related loss, and regular use of hearing aids is shown to stave off dementia.

Another big manufacturer, ReSound, did not announce brand-new tech, but won 3 Innovation Awards at CES this year, mainly due to their newest aids, the LiNX 3D and the ENZO 3D. You can read a little more about these on my hearing aid breakdown, but the honor comes from ReSound committing to providing the same smart connectivity in their ENZO aids for severe-to-profound loss that you see in their “lighter” models. That’s a HUGE benefit, as I’ve never gotten to enjoy bluetooth connectivity in the aids I need and currently wear.

No new tech from Starkey at CES, but they did host the Starkey Hearing Innovation Expo immediately before the CES weekend in Las Vegas and it was a big hit with a lot of VIP guests and speakers. Let me know if you’d like a write up on this kind of thing as well!

So far, I haven’t seen any CES news from the other main hearing aid manufacturers, but there were several other interesting product ideas that were presented.

Bragi, a company that specializes in wireless earbuds, announced they were partnering up with Mimi Hearing Technologies to create “Project Ears;” the details are scarce but it seems like the ear buds will auto-adapt to a user’s hearing for a personalized enhancement WITHOUT being a hearing aid. This would be interesting if it was able to combat tinnitus issues or actually help protect hearing in some environments.

In a similar vein, Nuheara announced their hybrid ear bud/amplification device specifically for voice enhancement, with a “hearing test” in the app.

The reason we’re seeing more companies branch into the hearing side of audio technology is due to the FDA’s deregulation of hearing aids last spring. This is an exciting new arena, but of course, I’m curious to see how closely regulated these are to avoid damage to hearing, as the companies seem mostly motivated to carve out a niche in a saturated market of wireless audio options.

What are your thoughts on some of the new announcements?

If you’ve followed my site for awhile, you know that one of my main crusades is for a reliable baby monitor for deaf and HoH parents. It’s a depressingly short list, so I’m going outside the box this month and looking into smartphone and smart watch integration. I’ll build my findings into my baby monitor list.

I’m sure MANY deaf and HoH people love their smartphone just as I do—my iPhone lies under my pillow at night and the alarm vibrations wake me.

My newest find is the Baby Monitor 3G app. Not even a physical purchase! And it’s cheap—only $3-5 depending on what device you set it up on. But you do need to have a smart device like a phone, tablet,or a laptop continually acting as the camera for monitoring baby. Your phone, acting as the parent unit, will vibrate upon alert. The interface is really cute, too, noting the last time baby made a noise. There is, of course, live video.

Has anyone tried this app out? I’m hoping to get a promotional download soon so I can properly review it, but haven’t gotten a response from the developer just yet. If I do, then I’ll be sure to update things.

So on Twitter, I try every month to participate in #HearingLossHour. Like it implies, it’s an hour-long Twitter chat with some question prompts—mostly based in the UK but I’m up early with the baby anyways so I like to think I provide the American perspective.

Anyways, September’s topic was about single-sided hearing loss, and that was a broad term, to encompass the fact that some people only have one “good ear.” For me, I can’t hear anything in my right (well, maybe I once faintly heard a fighter jet flying over) and wear a BTE aid in my “good ear.”

Amazingly, during the course of the chat, I learned something new that a LOT of other people know about, which goes to show that even though I do my best to stay on top of technology, there’s usually gaps in your niche knowledge, which is why things like Twitter conversations are so great. I learned that CROS (which stands for Contralateral Routing Of Signals) is like a hearing aid supplement for your “bad side,” carrying the audio picked up in a BTE receiver and throwing it into your main workhorse aid that you wear. Here’s the image from Phonak’s brochure to show what I mean:


What does that mean for me? It means I could wear it and have a MUCH easier time when I’m the driver in a car, because the passenger is on my bad ear. It’s hard to glance over to try and hear/lipread for a second, and maintain safe focus on the road, especially on the Beltway in DC… It means I wouldn’t have to try and arrange myself so specifically at every table in a group setting.

Phonak (who sponsors the monthly chat) has a CROS aid option that you can look into here. Starkey also has the Muse CROS, which you can look into here.

So I JUST got a new hearing aid fully covered by insurance in February, so it’ll be a few years before I can take advantage again and try to get a CROS system, because it seems like Oticon doesn’t manufacture CROS aids. Why did my audiologist not suggest it? I have no idea and fully intend to ask next time I go in. I do think it’d be weird to wear an aid of sorts on my right side again, as I haven’t done that since early childhood.

Do you use a CROS and love it?

With the rise of smart home technology, it naturally follows that there are a few of us out there wondering what it can do for those with hearing loss. It’s such a new arena though, that there’s a long way to go before the deaf and HoH community isn’t an afterthought in the process.

That said, a lot of the possibilities with these smart products do work nicely for the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing. So, I’ve decided to start a little series featuring one or two of these products at a time. I’ll also build a list into my equipment pages as I go. I’d love to hear if you use any of these or other products in your life!

Canary

This month, I’m featuring the Canary security camera, which is a motion-activated security camera that sends push notifications of movement or abnormal environmental factors such as temperature and air quality. I actually have their main all-in-one model, and while I mostly get alerts when my dog barks at the mailman, it does give me peace of mind when I’m away from the home (and checking in on my dog, as you can see from the photo below).

Screenshot of Canary security footage

Integration with a smartphone is the main benefit to those D/deaf and hard of hearing users. If you’re like me and sleep with your phone under the pillow on vibrate, you can get an instant notification of motion detected if you want; this one in particular is a relief to me when my (hearing) husband is out of town and my brain goes crazy with burglar scenarios while lying in bed at night. I usually turn on the “do not disturb” feature on my iPhone at night which mutes Canary alerts, but I leave it off when I’m home alone overnight.

For deaf users that may live in an area where they’re worried about outside activity, you can also purchase the Canary Flex, which is a weatherproof outdoor security camera. This all integrates together in the app, which is easy to use.

I have to say, my series on smart home tech for the deaf and hard of hearing might be shorter than I thought, because there’s not a lot out there. That said, I do appreciate that Canary addresses this specific user group in an FAQ on their website:

Are options available for customers who are deaf or hard of hearing?

This is something we are considering and hope to address more fully in the future. As the system is designed now, alerts are sent directly to your smartphone via push notification and do not rely on sound. The device itself has a subtle LED light that indicates if its recording. The siren, which can be triggered remotely from the app, serves as an intruder deterrent if you choose to use it. We welcome feedback, feature requests, and insights that might help us make Canary more universally accessible and usable for those with hearing difficulties. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch. (source)

When there IS activity, you can choose to sound a loud siren on the Canary device, and/or call emergency services from within the app. I’m assuming that button simply dials 911. I speak, so this wouldn’t be an issue for me, but it would slow down an emergency response for a deaf user. Where I live in Fairfax County, texting 911 is a pretty new cutting-edge feature, and I hope in the future, apps like this will be able to take a deaf user into consideration in preferences and initiate texting or a TTY/relay service immediately for quicker response.

What do you think might be a good feature? Would it be good if there was a subtle light that indicated there had been activity, prompting you to review the log on your phone? Is this something you have and feel it benefits you?

With the rise of smart home technology, it naturally follows that there are a few of us out there wondering what it can do for those with hearing loss. It’s such a new arena though, that there’s a long way to go before the deaf and HoH community isn’t an afterthought in the process.

That said, a lot of the possibilities with these smart products do work nicely for the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing. So, I’ve decided to start a little series featuring one or two of these products at a time. I’ll also build a list into my equipment pages as I go. I’d love to hear if you use any of these or other products in your life!

Philips Hue lightbulbs

My first featured product is the Philips Hue, a wireless LED bulb. These are popular for their integration with smartphones and devices like the Amazon Echo, most notably for the ability to set the lighting color and dimness just from your device. For those with hearing loss, the Hue bulbs can be linked into conditional situations—for example, if the doorbell rings, the lights can flash to alert someone. There are products for the deaf that already do this, but don’t have the smart wireless integration that can be customized pretty finely.

Specifically, let’s say you have the Ring smart doorbell, and Philips Hue lights. Using an IFTTT (if this then that) simple chain, you can have your home lights flash purple when someone’s at the door. This is definitely something I could take advantage of! The Hue bulbs are still pretty pricey, so this is certainly an investment but a fantastic one.

Furthermore, Philips allowed their Hue bulbs to be part of an open-source platform, and because of this, makers of products and software for the deaf are able to integrate with Hue bulbs. Convo, a business that provides video calling and translation services for the deaf, was able to create a Hue lights feature in their Convo Relay app, which allows for the Hue bulbs to flash when there is an incoming call. Not only that, but it can be customized for specific callers with “light ringtones.” Lights can also notify of missed calls.

Side note: when it comes to safety, definitely rely on the non-smart things. You don’t want to be depending on your Hue bulbs flashing if your smoke alarm is going off, for example. Stick with the specialty strobe products for that one.

Do any of you use the Hue features? I’d love to try this someday. And if you have another smart home product you’d like me to discuss in the future, let me know!