Hearing aids are for old people. At least that’s what I thought when I was young and invincible attending rock concerts far louder than they should have been.

Even though I still have most of my hearing relatively intact, I’m also part of the aging baby boom generation whose sheer size is already beginning to tax the limits of today’s healthcare systems.

People over the age of 65 typically spend 3-5 times more on healthcare than those who are younger, so unless we figure out ways to radically disrupt this trend, we may all be dealing with some rather dire affordability issues.

As a tiny pebble being dropped into the massive pond of healthcare costs, one of the first truly disruptive technologies for the hearing aid industry may be Google Glass with its conductive-bone audio transmission capabilities.

Three features that give it such disruptive potential are the elimination of an earpiece, the processing capabilities of its onboard microprocessor, and an open API that allows the geeks of the world to develop apps far more ingenious than anything in existence.

Here are a few thoughts on why this tiny sub-category of Google Glass will likely have such a massive impact.

History of the Hearing Aid

After the invention of the transistor in 1948, hearing aids began to shrink

The idea of hearing aids began to take root in the 1700s with the creation of shell-like devices that enabled a person to capture a larger sphere of sound and focus it into their ear. While they never worked very well, this early thinking led to a generation of electronic devices that began to crop up after Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone in 1876.

The first electric hearing aid, called the Akouphone, was created by Miller Reese Hutchison in 1898. It used a carbon transmitter, so that the hearing aid could be portable.

Later, Siemens began to commercialize an electronically amplified hearing aid in 1913. The product was bulky, about the size of a “tall cigar box” and not easily portable.

As an industry, hearing aids started to catch on after the development of transistors in 1948 by Bell Laboratories. Over time they’ve become tinier, more fashionable, and with far better audio capabilities.

Population Trends

Our aging baby boomer population in the U.S. (similar in other countries) will dramatically increase demand for health-related products as individuals over the age of 65 typically spend 300-500% more on healthcare than to people under 65

The number of people over 65 is increasing quickly, and so are activity levels. Gone are the days when old people were relegated to a rocker on the front porch to while away their remaining years. Seniors today are very active, and very demanding of solutions to anything that will limit their capabilities.

Pricing Trends

As you can see in the chart above, most of today’s consumer electronics products – cameras, laptops, TVs and even GPS systems – have dropped on average by more than half!

The combination of market competition and low cost manufacturing in the Far East have streamlined production processes and driven prices lower. The only exceptions in the above examples are MP3 players and hearing aids.

MP3s experienced a price jump because its capabilities have advanced exponentially over the past decade going from storing 128MB of data (roughly 12 songs) in 2000 to storing 160G of data (roughly 40,000 songs) or more today.

Hearing aids prices have risen partly because they’re covered by insurance and partly because of sheer demand. It’s an industry well positioned for a radical overhaul.

Enter Google Glass

Google Glass is an attempt to free people from their desktop computers and remove the quirky need to check their portable devices every couple minutes. Glass places all the same information into a viewing surface right in front of your eyes.

Essentially, Google Glass is a camera, display, touchpad, microprocessor, battery and microphone built into spectacle frames. The display is slightly above a person’s normal field of vision but easily viewable.

The viewing surface is the equivalent of looking at a 24-inch display from 8 inches away.

Having and ever-present online display mounted on your head gives rise to a series of obvious uses such as taking, sending, and receiving photos, videos, search, facial recognition, calendar reminders, breaking news flashes, and much more.

But one of the more intriguing thoughts is that Glass will become a close-to-the-brain interface device capable of adding any number of add-ons and attachments.

The current version of Glass features a sunglasses attachment that can easily be coupled to the main rail. In time it will allow normal corrective lenses to be added.

Glass does not have a typical earpiece but instead transmits sound through bone conduction. The use of this kind of non-obtrusive sound amplification creates the possibility for a device used as a hearing aid for those with low-level hearing loss.

Naturally a number of in-ear attachments could also be attached to compensate for whatever kind of hearing loss issues an individual is dealing with.

Creating apps for Google Glass is a far different experience than smartphones

The Hearing Aid App 

Google’s approach is unique. Sound is captured by the Glass frame and converted into something “hearable” through bone conduction transfer – vibrating your skull to transmit to your ears.

Since hearing loss comes in a million different shapes and sizes, developing a perfect solution for everyone has been a rather elusive dream.

By placing a device like this in the hands of people outside of current industry thought leaders opens up an entirely new realm of possibilities.

Just adding self-adjusting EQ apps that autocorrect based on the micro-detection of normal human responses could improve our listening abilities a thousand fold.

With the addition of directional devices, we may soon have the bionic ability to zero in on a conversation a mile away, or to listen through walls, or even pick out a quiet conversation happening in a noisy room.

Very likely, a near-term app will give us the ability to see an instant translation of a conversation we’re having in a foreign country in our own native tongue on the Glass display.

Yes, sensory enhancements like this may seem scary at first, and there will be many abuses, but when have we ever been satisfied with living within the confines of our current abilities?

“Just adding self-adjusting EQ apps that autocorrect based on the micro-detection of normal human responses could improve our listening abilities a thousand fold.”

Final Thoughts

As you can see, I’ve focused in on a very tiny aspect of Glass capabilities. Yet the overall impact can be enormous.

Roughly 25% of the U.S. population suffers some level of hearing loss, yet it is a condition that will affect 100% of every population either directly or indirectly at some point in their lives.

The U.S. hearing aid market is a $6 billion industry that has been licking its lips at the prospects for an aging population that will quickly double in size.

However, they never imagined their biggest competitor might soon be Google, a rival few companies want to have enter their space.

But this is just one possibility. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the disruptions Google Glass may bring, or whether you think it could simply fizzle out altogether. Or will Apple or Samsung create a competitive product that is far superior with far better features?

Post your thoughts below.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything


26 Responses to “How Google Glass will Disrupt the Hearing Aid Industry?”

Comments List

  1. Kathleen Chapman

    Throught provoking article. The Google Glass could help people increase their hearing clarity much better than a hearing aide. The frequency changes between a spoken word versus television and music are difficult for many hearing aide wearers resulting in insufficient hearing for seniors who then give up their hearing aides. With the google eyepiece, the spoken word could be translated onto the eyepiece for someone who is totally deaf. World changing for hearing impaired and seniors. As a person who sells to seniors, I look forward to this advance in hearing.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Kathleen, You bring up some important points. I'm not sure how good this technology will be at transcribing every conversation, and its ability to sort through dialects, accents, people chewing gum, and using slang and vernacular, but it will certainly improve over time. Tom
  2. <a href='http://talkingpointz.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Dave Michels</a>

    Hearing aids are for people with partial hearing. That is a huge market, but there's also people with no hearing abilities. The text based conversations would apply to them, but I wonder about that bone conduction angle - particularly if vibrations can be translated into different languages. I also wonder if Glass can efficiently integrate with a cochlear implant. I think of Geordi on Star Trek where his disability gives him added vision.
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Dave, Some great points. I'm certainly not an expert in this area, but as Kathleen pointed out, the same kind of apps used to translate speech into text on your screen can also be used to transcribe virtually any audible conversation into readable text. It would be like living in a world with constant subtitles. I'm also anxiously awaiting a way to effectively talk to aliens. They're coming. We desperately need to get better at this whole alien thing because when they come, as the movies suggest, they'll simply start shooting without any warning. :-) Tom
  3. les garson

    The potential enhancements of Google glass in healthcare field as astounding. Imagine a Dr walking into hospital and immediaetly all his/her pts in the hospital scroll down in visual field, their locations, alerts of abnormal lab or other values, alerts on medication interactions, dosage modifications. ability to immediately pull up latest medical literature on certain illnesses, treatments, etc. Truly disruptive to the way current workflow functions
    • FuturistSpeaker

      Les, I like how you describe the potential. Most doctors tend to be late adopters when it comes to technology. Maybe this is something that they'll want to jump on the learning curve a bit quicker since it can make their lives far more efficient. Tom
  4. olafmr

    Re: population trends: nice chart, but how can we have in 2030 69 billion persons over the age of 65 as we expect by 2050 a total worl population of 9 billion!
  5. <a href='http://www.makersfactory.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>David Britton</a>

    Tom, UCSC in Santa Cruz Capstone project demonstrated a glass microphone that was far superior to any standard microphone. I volunteer to get on the list to purchase one integrated prescription set of glasses and microphone!
  6. <a href='http://re-SOURCErooms.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Suni Pele Nelson</a>

    Bridging alternative medicine, energy medicine, biofield tech devices into mainstream, I always question how new tech right next to the brain affects the brain, i.e. negative research of cellular phone use that is not-harmonic to the brain. Do you know the impact of Google glasses? Perhaps they've corrected such. AND, many of us were born clairaudient, clairsentient, precognitive, truthfully everyone's true essence is PSI, psychic, feeling subtle energies; we do not need a tech device to access this natural ability-just a good teacher!!!!
  7. <a href='http://www.SmallBizChamber.org' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>John Wren</a>

    Very inefficient market for hearing aids, that's what keeps prices so high, in my opinion. Current manugactures and deals have great political power. Will dampen the growth of this or anything new. Once licensing barriers to entry are overcome, and my guess is that Google could get that done, many, many new devices will flood the market, which will be good for everyone. Except existing dealers and manufactures.
  8. RPFE

    Tie in a lip reading app as a booster. Magnify and centre speaking face to focus/record. Thermal read face for truth veracity. Finally pre-record response for translation using keywords taken from speaker to maximise positive uptake of message.
  9. Uri

    I'm much less than 65 but already have hearing problems. I can't wear ordinary hearing aid - I was offered the BAHA, which I rejected on the spot. I looked for innovative solutions for my problem and found there is a nice project running in Verginia Tech, called NuWave, which is a fancy glasses hearing aid using bone conduction. I wish it was already a product but it is still a prototype. And then I read that Google glasses use the same technology. I think this solution matches my needs ultimately (I also adore gadgets :)).
  10. Jeff

    Having spent a decade of my life in the hearing aid dispensing business some years ago this article is intriguing to me. Something to consider that wasn't mentioned , all states in our nation now treat testing, hearing aid fitting and follow up care as a regulated quasi medical discipline. Many states have very strict rules that are designed to ensure good and fair patient care but also these regulations have as much to do with limited entry and profit protection for those who currently hold licenses to dispense. Having an education related to hearing loss and the science behind hearing aid fitting I have remained stumped by extreme high prices of hearing aid technology long after R&D has been recouped. As an example in 1996 Resound with the help of Bell Labs introduced a game changing hearing device in that it could regulate volume for the users automatically thousands of times per second without the need for an external volume control. This technology while still excellent has been exceeded by new research and improvements. So why isn't this excellent but old technology available at the dime store like reading glasses. A person suffering from hearing loss could visit the Audioligist for a hearing test, stop by Walgreens and enter their hearing loss thresholds into a computer and walk out with properly programmed tiny behind the ear hearing aid with a one size fits most non ocluding earmold which the industry is using today for most in office fittings? The reason is money, just money so in my view Google doesn't need to reinvent the wheel with eyeglass hearing devices. First the industry will need to be challenged and disrupted, we need a Sam Walton to bring a new approach to dispensing and much lower prices to the masses. The ever growing number of seniors need to speak up and be heard.
  11. Greg

    I'm a 65 year old babyboomer (with more than 20 patents) who retired at age 50 to Naples, FL who currently is researching the market for his first hearing aids. I come to the decision that BTE (behind the ear) with a small wire to the inside ear speaker is the best. Siemens, Phonak, Oticon, Widex and so on are all 5 to 7 thousand dollars. Google MUST ASAP develop "GLASAID" (as I would call it) which combines bifocal spectacles with hearing aids (as described above) with their Glas technologies, plus a drop down wire mic. Market it to the baby boomers and they will absolutely control the 6 billion dollar hearing aid market plus the 12 billion dollar glasses market plus whatever else for the Glas market. This device would correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, hearing loss which the baby boomers have. Google MUST get the hearing aid market away from the Doctors (ENT) who do nothing but keep the prices double what they should be. Google MUST get the eyewear (prescription glasses) companies to train audiologists to sell GLASAID . Siemens is trying to sell their hearing aid division, rumor has it. Google should immediately by it and get this product to the market NOW.
  12. Greg

    A follow up thought. Google should develop the spectacles/hearing aid GLASAID with the camera that is not mounted stationary in the front right but should be mounted on the side frame and then with the push of a finger it slides forward and around other front at it now is. That way people only use the camera when desired. That is a patentable feature. Pass it along to the Google techies.
  13. Greg

    A further thought. No hearing aid company or phone manufacturer offers direct communication between the phone and hearing aid. The hearing aid makers offer a $400 device that is an intermediary. This must be eliminated. Google could make it happen.
  14. Stef

    There is a device that streams your phone directly to your hearing aids. It's about $100. As a future audiologist, I'm excited to accommodate all if these advances in technology! The bone conduction device on these glasses will only work for a mild-moderate hearing loss, but someone above was on the right track with integrating all assistive devices (ie glasses, hearing aids, telephone) together. I have some patients very eager to learn about technology, but most are not even willing to try the Bluetooth streamers, so that may cause a problem. I also agree that hearing aids are too costly, but I know in my experience so far our patients are very satisfied with the care associated with the cost. Get it google!!
  15. Kathleen Parrish

    My husband is about to purchase his 3rd pair of hearing aids. Cost of a pair of 64 channel, digital programmable Miracle Ears? $5700+ObamaCare Tax. For an extra $600, they'll activate the BlueTooth feature. The price gouging in the industry is horrendous. If Glass can compete, they'll have our vote - and our money.
  16. <a href='http://Www.silverhairs.co.uk' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Keith Paterson</a>

    Thanks for this article and the responses. As a cochlear implant wearer ( costing our health service £30,000 I have been withering on about this possibility for ten years ( see my page on deafness). There are a million deaf in China alone. It seemed to take Google an age to see the (commercial) potential. I hope the patents do not tie this whole thing up too tight or I will never get my Google Glass in time. I am 82 ! I saw a very negative article from the point of view of the deaf from birth folk. Compared with the deafened they are a minority. But even they will get benefit from being able to look at someone while seeing what they are saying.
  17. David Hennessy

    Not sure I'm correct in my reading of this article but it seems to suggest bone conduction as a suitable solution for hearing impairment? If this is the proposition, then unfortunately this only applies to a small percentage of hearing impaired. Bone conduction relies on a near normal cochlea function and is usually suitable for those with middle ear dysfunction or outer ear damage, which equates to a maximum 5% of hearing loss. Uri try a wonderful product by a german manufacturer search 'bone conduction spectacles' (top of the list)
  18. Josie Harris

    My 10 yr old son has severe unilateral hearing loss and only the bone anchored hearing aids are appropriate for his condition. He HATES wearing it and just today told me that Google Glass could help him more than any BAHA product. HOW can I find out more about this and see if I can get him to be a beta tester or something like that?? so excited if it is really an option! THANK YOU FOR any info.
  19. David Pearl

    I am 52--dealing with tinnitus hearing loss and hyperacusis since age 33--I lose hearing real easy; even $300 earplugs one step below ear muffs often do not offer me enough protection..I am from Silicon Valley and worked at many tech firms..I often wondered why all the techies weren't spending more time trying to cure health problems, disprupt archaic, unfair industries such as the hearing aid one and why they are not looking at human life extension
  20. <a href='http://www.audicus.com' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Aaron</a>

    Interesting. Hearing aids and hearing aid culture are changing at a rapid pace. Here's a blog I found about reform in Washington: http://bit.ly/1QfdpA4
  21. Marcia Williams

    Hearing aids cost $3,000 - $6,000 in USA. Medicare does not pay and I haven't found any insurance that will pay for hearing aids. There is no reason for this high priced market. 5% of the global population needs aids. 15% of global market are adults with 1/3 of adults over 65 year old....Technology has improved rapidly in every sense except hearing aids. If a cell phone has an app to help hearing impaired. And hearing aids can't do that!!!!!

Leave a Reply