Nish D Abeysiriwardena, Program Director, R&D Key Accounts, GN Hearing [CPH:GN]
Sometimes I wonder if I have chosen one of the most challenging and fascinating industries to work in. Overall, in terms of engineering, and specifically within embedded solutions. Let me give you an example. I love smartphones, but look at your phone. How often do you need to charge it? I bet you do that several times a day like I do.
That scenario does not fly when it comes to hearing aids. Now, pick up your smartphone. It is probably the size of your entire hand or even larger, right? For obvious reasons, this battery life and size are unacceptable for our hearing aid users. We need to create hearing aids that people can rely on for 24 hours. And they need to have up to 12 hours of streaming time. Try that with your smartphone. And add to it that hearing aids can be as small as the tip of your finger. And it all boils down to the fact that we are not inventing technology for technology’s sake. We are tirelessly focused on the customer experience to make life sound better.
Solving the Puzzles of Conflicting Demands
My many colleagues and I work in a fascinating field of competing demands, where our technology has to become smaller and smaller, while accommodating ever-more connectivity, battery life, and individualized features for the human ear. Our ears are as unique as our fingerprints, so we are not in a one-sizefits-all business.
We want to create a highly complex medical device and shrink all the components down to something as small as a shirt button that connects seamlessly and wirelessly to your smartphone, allowing you to stream all your phone calls during the day and stream the audio from all your favorite tv-shows in the evening – all with no charging from you wake up until you go to sleep.
Looking at the chipsets, our challenge is that hearing aids are so small that you can’t just use a standard chipset. That means that we need to invent and design our own chipset. That again then leads to another challenge; we need to create and develop our own operating system exclusively for our hardware platforms. We are constantly researching and developing chip technologies that cater to the size of the hearing aids and the available levels of battery consumption while integrating for example wireless connectivity.
Now, add to all this that we want to create a real-time system with extremely low latency (less than 10 milliseconds). Which makes the factor of the real-time system equally as important as the other challenging parameters? Well, let us look at it from the view of a hearing-impaired person. Laura uses her hearing aid when speaking to John. It is a so-called “open fit,” so she will get some low frequencies directly into the ear and some high frequencies that are processed by the hearing aid because that is the unique composition of hearing loss. If the latency is above 10 milliseconds for the frequencies processed by the hearing aid, it is scientifically proven that this latency will reduce her ability to understand the sounds.
Covid-19 has Changed the Speed of Adoption for Telemedicine
Right now, new challenges have emerged with the COVID-19 pandemic that have changed the lives of many elderly people who could benefit from hearing care, but who are being urged to stay at home during the pandemic. Some of our customers are hearing care professionals who now are discovering new and digital ways to remotely serve these people.
"We are tirelessly focused on the customer experience to make life sound better"
The demands for remote care and telemedicine will also increase. Recently, we have focused on expanding our telemedicine, which has seen a huge leap in adoption rate during the pandemic. We are proud to have made our worlds-first solutions a norm, rather than an exception. ReSound Assist Live is a valuable example of how we want to help our customers. Our GN Hearing Embedded Systems Platform, with its exclusive ecosystem of Cloud, APP, and Fitting SW, was in a perfect technological position for this new normal, already capable of performing remote firmware updates and asynchronously remote fine-tuning the audiogram. GN Hearing accelerated the launch of ReSound Assist Live to meet patient needs quickly.
Normally, a customer would need to see the audiologist in person at the clinic to have a new hearing aid fitted. Now, ReSound Assist Live provides users the ability to communicate with hearing care professionals using a faceto-face video tele-audiology platform from the convenience of their home. It provides both real-time communication and an at-home in-ear test, expanding remote services to include testing and fitting of new hearing aids when appropriate. Most of the hearing care industry has now followed suit or is in the process of offering these kinds of services.
Looking ahead, our industry will only serve more fascinating and complex challenges, where we will be working even harder to solve the competing demands of ever-increasing miniaturization, increased connectivity, lower battery consumption, and individualized features. In our industry we have a unique approach to this. At GN Hearing, we are not doing this completely on our own, but we believe in a partnership philosophy that pollinates our technologies with R&D partnerships with for example Google and Apple. We also operate within one of the world’s largest research programs for R&D; large scale EU research programs like ‘Horizon 2020’, and not least, with academia globally. And GN’s overall strategy for 2020 and beyond is to take individualized customer experience to a whole new level.