Low-cost hearing aid has less than a dollar's worth of parts
Hearing aids may indeed be commonly used and relied upon in the First World, but they're still too expensive for many people in developing nations. The experimental LoCHAid device, however, is aimed at changing that.
Today's hearing aids use digital sound processors to filter out distracting background noises, while simultaneously amplifying people's voices. Additionally, those processors are usually tweaked to boost specific audio frequencies, depending on the unique nature of each user's hearing loss. And while prices vary, modern hearing aids typically cost in the range of a few thousand dollars.
Developed by a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the LoCHAid takes a different approach.
For one thing, instead of a costly processor, it utilizes cheaper electronic filters of the type that used to be utilized in all hearing aids. These filters are also less power-hungry than processors, allowing the batteries to last longer. Additionally, the LoCHAid is preset to amplify the frequencies that are most often not heard due to age-related hearing loss.
This means that it's not personalized to the individual user – plus it's relatively bulky – but it's also cheap. According to Georgia Tech, the electronic components for one device cost 98 cents. What's more, it runs on widely available and relatively inexpensive AA or lithium-ion coin cell batteries – one set should be good for about three weeks of daily use.
"We have shown that it is possible to build a hearing aid for less than the price of a cup of coffee," says Prof. Vinaya Manchaiah. "This is a first step, a platform technology, and we’ve shown that low cost doesn’t have to mean low quality."
The scientists are now developing a smaller version, that will contain about $7 worth of components.
A paper on the research, which is being led by Asst. Prof. Saad Bhamla, was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.