Today we’re diving into how smart home tech and wearable technology in general is set to revolutionize the hearing aid market, in much the same way that it is changing the way we monitor, evaluate and measure other aspects of our health and wellbeing. Smart hearing aids, advancing a long established market, will be a big part of wearable technology inside and outside of the home during 2016. In much the same way that other technologies in the wider tech market have advanced, many spinning out of tech built with another purpose in mind, we’re now seeing the advent of a new use case of the virtual assistant smartphone tech (think Siri on Apple), this time being repurposed for the hard of hearing.
When you stop and think about it, the majority of technological innovations have taken place in the last 100 years. The things that were considered impossible 100 years ago have already been invented, or are about to be. Cell phones, then smart phones, personal computers, and LED TVs are all by products of recent technological innovations. And, when something is brought into the market, it is constantly improved upon. For example, when the cell phone was first invented, it was a big, rectangular block. As technology advanced, cell phones got smaller and smaller, becoming an item for everyone, rather than just those of elite status. From block phones, to flip phones, and now smart phones, technology has brought some of the greatest developments to all industries. Other than touchscreen capabilities and an unlimited amount of applications, one of the greatest advancements in smart phone technology is the personal assistant. Apple’s Siri, Windows’s Cortana, Goggle Voice, and the multiple other digital assistants have proved to be one of the greatest additions to smart phones. Now, Microsoft is working on a dedicated Cortana device; A device specifically designed for speaking and hearing purposes. Although a prototype has not been released yet, we have outlined how the new Microsoft device might function, and provided an in depth description of Digital Assistants.
Smart [er] hearing aids in 2016 – what can we expect?
Of course, hearing aids are nothing new. In the same way that watches were nothing new when Apple and others decided it was time to make them ‘smart’. Smart home technology stands for connecting devices to make our home world more immersive and cohesive, and frankly, the way that the hard of hearing use their tech aids to help them hear better stands to radically improve as more and more of the devices that they use get more brain power. So many household appliances make a distinctive noise to let us know that they are finished doing their job. From Microwaves (with their distinctive ping sound) through to the noise of a kettle or the sound of a washing machine beeping to say its finished. Hearing aids have a limited ability to pick up on this, and heck, in bigger properties, even those with perfect hearing may miss the sound. This is before we start on how we hear TVs and phones. Clearly there is an opportunity here to tie together these devices, via the internet of things, to make easy to accomplish yet meaningful upgrades to these technologies.
Also, equally clearly to the already existing hearing aids is the already available digital assistants. So lets see how these two may glue together.
What is a Digital Assistant?
The same way CEOs and lawyers have personal assistants to fax, organize, and relieve some of their daily projects, most smart phones come equipped with digital assistants to help us in our everyday lives. Siri, Cortana, Google Voice, and Vokul are only a few digital assistants currently on the market. Digital assistants can help users locate files on their laptops and smart phones, manage calendars, track packages, or surf the internet. Most digital assistants work in one of two ways, users can type a question into the search bar or speak a question into the microphone. Most digital assistants, such as Siri or Cortana, are sophisticated enough to perform all of the functions of a smart phone primarily through voice activation. Digital assistance do more than act as an additionally feature to smart devices. Siri makes driving safer by speaking aloud directions, instead of users having to look down every so often. Cortana makes multi-tasking easier by speaking a command into one’s smart phone while washing dishes. And, Google Voice makes it easier for users to locate documents and files hidden inside mounds of data.
Who is using Digital Assistants?
Almost every technology company is incorporating some form of a digital assistant into their smart devices, and constantly working to improve those technologies. Apple, Microsoft, Android, and hundreds of other tech companies are developing their own digital assistance to differentiate themselves from others. While most consumers use Apple, Android, Windows, or Google devices to fill their digital assistant needs, there a multiple other technologies that provide similar functions. Vokul, Dragon Go, SpeakToIt Assistant, and Evi are just a few of the other digital assistance on the market.
What is Microsoft’s plan for a dedicated Cortana?
Microsoft has began developing a product dedicated to the digital assistant. Building on top of the already developed Cortana technology, Microsoft is simply upgrading their software to provide a device specifically designed for voice activation. Microsoft is hoping to produce a product equivalent, or close to, artificial intelligence. Imagine the movie Her, in real life, or, J.A.R.V.I.S., from Iron Man. The Microsoft product, is rumored to be in the early stages of development, and referred to as Clip. Clip will be a device worn inside of the ear, like an ear bud, or as clip on jewelry (disguised wearable tech is now a big thing). Hearable technology like Microsoft’s Clip is a growing category of technology and is in the very early stages of development. However, Microsoft is not the only technology company competing for breakthrough hearable tech.
The future of smart hearing aids and other ‘hearing’ technology
Big technology companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Android, and Samsung, with their smart TVs, smart watches, other tech wearables, are making a move into hearable technology. Microsoft’s Clip is aiming to produce an always on, in the ear personal assistant. Hearable technology is not an earphone or ear bud that connects to your smart phone via Bluetooth, but a product all of its own. Hearable technology is still in the very early stages of development, and most ideas about hearable tech are nothing but ideas, but if hearable technology is anything like the smart watch, it will hit markets soon enough. However, one of the biggest problems with Siri, Cortana, and others, is voice recognition. Unless commands are spoken in a crystal-clear tone, they will most likely be misinterpreted or misconstrued. To create an effective device that works for everyone, users need to be able to collaborate voice recognition to their own dialects, pronunciations, and vocabularies.
Who is developing hearable technology?
Moto X’s Hint is one of the more advanced products in hearable technology. The Bluetooth earpiece, which does so much more than normal Bluetooth technology, is already available. Hint is a lightweight, dime-sized ear bud, which is a voice-activated smart device. Compared to the film depictions of artificial intelligence, Hint is nowhere near there, but it is a very good start. The device can easily transmit music, phone calls, podcasts, and other audio from smart phones, as well as Siri, Cortana, or any Bluetooth compatible devices with digital assistants. Again, voice recognition is an issue. A certain number of syllables have to be used in order for the device to accurately understand commands. Regardless of the voice recognition flaw, and still having to pair the device with a smart phone, Hint allows users to control every aspect of smart phones through talking. Furthermore, Moto X is already working on a newer version of Hint, which will do more, last longer, and rely on smart phones less.
Based on the advancement of technology in recent years, hearable technology with smart hearing aids will be available to us, we think, within the next year or two. And, once hearable tech hits the market, it will only be improved upon and upgraded, like Apple’s consistent reinvention of the iPhone.