How SoundGear Technology is Preventing a Problem in Human Health
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How SoundGear Technology is Preventing a Problem in Human Health

Achin Bhowmik, Ph.D., Starkey’s Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President of Engineering

Achin Bhowmik, Ph.D., Starkey’s Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President of Engineering

Developing new technology is often about solving a problem. But, what about preventing a problem before it occurs? This is especially important in the area of human sensory perception. When it comes to hearing loss, once it occurs, it cannot be reversed. It can only be addressed with sound enhancement devices, such as hearing aids. As inventors at Starkey, we are privileged to work on developing technologies that can be used to improve people’s lives by enhancing and augmenting their sense of hearing. Not only are we using our advancement in hearing aid technology to help people with hearing loss, but we’re also using it to prevent hearing loss from occurring in the first place.

According to the World Health Organization, over 1.5 billion people live with hearing loss globally. While a significant number of these cases are due to age-related sensory-neural hearing loss, many suffer from noise-induced hearing damages that are preventable. A study by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reported that up to 24 percent of adults and 17 percent of teens in the US alone develop hearing loss because of exposure to loud noises. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hearing loss can result from a single very loud sound or from repeated exposures to loud noises over time. The louder the sound, the less time it takes for hearing loss to occur. That’s why hearing protection is so important. However, it’s often not utilized because the typical hearing protection systems blocks out all sounds, making it harder to enjoy the noises we actually want and need to hear.

When you think of hearing protection, you may think of generic, foam earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. These kinds of hearing protection devices physically help block sound waves from entering the ear. This results in fewer decibels of sound that enter the ear. Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR, is expressed in decibels and represents a simple approximation of the safety the wearer of a hearing protection device might be provided. In a best-case scenario, the noise entering the ear while wearing a hearing protection device is reduced by the number of decibels indicated by the NRR. But, there are many factors that impact the NRR including poor fit of hearing protection devices. This means people aren’t being as protected as they think they are. Conversely, at Starkey, we have reimagined hearing protection by applying advanced sound processing technology as well as personalized fitting.

"The way technology is advancing, we can use what we learn through hearing technology to help prevent problems from developing"

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are opening up a new world of possibilities in hearing technologies. SoundGear hearing protection devices detect loud noises as they happen, instantly suppressing them to protect your hearing. At the same time, the technology also optimizes hearing to enable better communication, performance and safety. But, how does the technology do this? SoundGear constantly analyzes and understands the surrounding acoustic environment utilizing machine learning and AI technology and combines passive sound attenuation with digital circuitry to compress or “shave the peaks” off dangerous sounds above a certain level. These devices employ miniaturized microphones, speakers and advanced signal processing, allowing the user to hear surrounding sounds at normal or even louder-than-normal levels, which is extremely helpful for hearing game, conversations or receiving range commands. When dangerously loud sounds are detected, the advanced circuitry and algorithms compress the sound to the speakers inside the devices until the noise returns to a safe level. Because of their ability to amplify softer sounds while compressing dangerous ones, electronic SoundGear devices are a game-changer for hunters and construction workers or even for everyday use.

They’re the world’s first custom, Bluetooth-compatible and rechargeable hearing aid and protection devices, and they are preventing a problem before it happens. By being custom-fit, these hearing protection devices are specific to the wearer. This means the change in NRR one might experience due to poor fit won’t happen because they are made specific to each ear. We also wanted to make them enjoyable to wear. The devices are small enough to rest discreetly in your ears and comfortable enough to wear all day. With the Bluetooth capability, you can wirelessly stream phone calls, music or other audio all while protecting your ears.

By creating intelligent and customizable technology that is protecting people’s hearing, we are striving to enhance their quality of life. The way technology is advancing, we can use what we learn through hearing technology to help prevent problems from developing. SoundGear represents an important direction in human health, by focusing on protecting our sensory perception system of hearing from the preventable noise-induced damages.

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