It may sound like science fiction, but Internet-connected hearing aids are already common – and there is a whole world of ways they can make your life easier.
First of all, when we talk about connecting hearing aids to the Internet, we’re not really talking about Googling things. We’re talking about a different way of using the Internet.
We are mostly talking about using the Internet to connect to other things.
The amount of devices and things that are Internet-connected is growing all the time. These range from cars to coffee machines, to health monitoring wristbands.
This has come to be known as the Internet of Things (IoT). And as more and more common electronic devices become Internet-enabled, we can connect them in intelligent ways.
If both your doorbell and your hearing aids are Internet-enabled, you can connect them!
This means you can hear a gentle chime in your hearing aids when someone is at your door – even if you’re in the garden or another part of the house.
For people with hearing loss who might otherwise struggle to hear the doorbell, not only can this replace their lost abilities, it can actually enhance them – enabling them to hear the doorbell from further away than other people can.
Internet-connected light bulbs and electric sockets are commonly available nowadays. Using the Internet, it’s easy to set up rules that automatically connect these to your hearing aids.
So when you get into bed at the end of the day and turn your hearing aids off, they could automatically switch off the main light in your bedroom.
As well as a bit of fun, small connections like these can help to automate parts of life. If it sounds like the future, it’s because it is! Connected homes are right up there with robotic vacuum cleaners in making our lives more convenient in future.
Would you like your coffee machine to start when you put your hearing aids on in the morning? What about your fridge telling you if the temperature rises too high? Would you like a gentle voice to remind you to take your medication? The possibilities are endless, and because they are in your ear, the notifications are discreet.
Now you understand the concept. But how is it that you create these connections and administer them?
Well, it’s simple, and it all takes place on a website called IFTTT.com. IFTTT stands for IF This Then That (IFTTT). It refers to rules: if this happens, then make that happen.
On IFTTT.com, you make a new rule, such as: If my football team scores a goal, read out: “Your football team has scored!”
Then IFTTT takes care of it.
On IFTTT.com there are many rules that already exist. These are called Applets. You can browse through popular ones that other people have made, and then use them. Or you can make your own very easily.
You could use IFTTT to give you a ping in your hearing aids when you receive an SMS message. Or use Google Maps to track your location and automatically select the mode you normally use when you get there, such as your work programme.
With IFTTT, your hearing aids still don’t connect directly to the Internet. They actually connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth®. Then the smartphone then makes the connection to the Internet.
Released in 2016, Oticon Opn™ hearing aids were the first to use this IFTTT capability. Here, the connection to the Internet happens via the company’s Oticon ON App. This app has an interface with IFTTT.com.
Internet-connected hearing aids are still very new, yet they might just be the start of data-driven hearing care. For the first time in history, there is now rich data about people’s actual hearing, such as how they use their hearing aids in different situations.
Imagine if your hearing care expert could plug into the Internet to see your hearing use, and then adjust your hearing aids to help you get the very best from them.
Internet-connected hearing aids are also the start of a larger trend. Personal technology such as mobile phones is becoming more and more powerful. What about real-time translation of other languages directly in your ear?
At the same time, more technology is becoming wearable – such as smartwatches, exercise trackers, and health monitors. By combining data from these different technologies, experts will be able to see relationships such as how your hearing performance correlates with your stress levels, and suggest actions you could take to reduce them. With a detailed understanding of each person’s individual health, personalised healthcare becomes a real possibility – and Internet-connected hearing aids can be a vital link in the network.
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