Guest blog post: Hearing Futures: gamification and virtual reality in the next generation of hearing aid technology

This is a guest blog post by Yuli Levtov (Reactify) of the European Funded project, 3D Tune-In.

Over 90 million people in Europe currently suffer from hearing loss and, due to an ageing population, this number is likely to continue to increase. While hearing aid technologies have dramatically advanced in the last 25 years, people’s perception and use of these devices have changed very little. Hearing aids are now much smaller and more discrete, and incorporate several functions that go far beyond the simple amplification and equalisation operations performed by their older, analogue counterparts.

Miniaturization from an analogue hearing aid (on the left) to a modern digital one (on the right)

Nevertheless, this technological advancement is not always accessible to or accessed by the users. The majority of people with hearing aids use the device as if it was a standard analogue hearing aid i.e. only for its amplification and equalisation features, and new algorithms are under-used or not exploited to their full potential.

As hearing aids have become more complex, the percentage of used features has decreased

Hearing impairment in older adults can lead to frustration, low self-esteem, withdrawal and impair social inclusion. Furthermore, hearing loss among children affects speech and language development, which in turn impacts on academic achievement and future vocational choices.

All of this served as the foundation for a European Funded project, 3D Tune-In, which has aimed to tackle many of these issues through innovative uses of modern technology, and collaborations between academia and industry. As part of the project, the project has developed a series of games and applications targeted at various aspects of life that affect hearing aid users, and those they are close to. These range from applications to train elderly users on how to improve their understanding of the various hearing aid function, to a game that helps children without a hearing impairment to understand what it feels like to have hearing loss, with a view to increasing empathy with affected relatives.

In the age of the fresh excitement around the Internet of Things and wearables, it is easy to forget that smart, wearable devices in the form of hearing aids have been around for many decades. Yet, despite this, there are still significant barriers to people using them to their full potential.

Visit the 3D Tune-In website if you are interested in learning more about the project and the applications created therein.

On the 18th April there will be a Hearing Futures event at the V&A and a chance to try out all of the 3D Tune-In applications.