I had a patient come in the other day and ask me, “If they can make self-driving cars, why can’t they perfect hearing aids?”
<sigh> Well, first, this, from QZ.com regarding Tesla’s autopilot cars:
The NHSTA’s findings were generally favorable to Tesla’s testing procedures, attention to safety measures, and success reducing the number of traffic incidents involving Tesla vehicles. Investigators analyzing Tesla’s mileage and airbag deployment data from 2014 to 2016 for vehicles outfitted with Autopilot software found crash rates dropped by about 40% in that time frame. After the installation of autosteer technology in the Autopilot package, crash rates dropped from 1.3 per million miles in 2014 to 0.8 in 2016—significantly lower than the US average of 1.85 crashes per million miles.
No doubt a 40% drop in accident rates is wonderful, but it’s not 100%. I would say they haven’t perfected the self-driving car yet. And neither have they perfected hearing aids… or are they likely to do so…
Hearing loss can be attributed to a wide gamut of causes ranging from congenital to causal. There are times that there are more than one issue occurring simultaneously. A hearing aid is an instrument to compensate for these issues. It is not a cure for the underlying problem. We’ll have to wait for biomedical scientists may find a way to repair the underlying problems, but for now hearing aids are equivalent to a crutch. But what an ever-improving crutch they are! The advances in recent years are phenomenal.
If you’re a long time user, you may remember what hearing aids used to be. Possibly you remember the hearing aids your grandparents wore. The amount of technology in each hearing aid has increased exponentially while simultaneously the size of the hearing aid has decreased to where they are light, comfortable and nearly invisible… sometimes even to me and trust me, I’m always looking at people’s ears! Ha!
That said, it doesn’t mean the advances are through. And there’s the possibility that future advances might make hearing aids a choice of enhancement for people with normal hearing. Sunglasses have become a fashion statement. Will hearing aids someday reach that same level of acceptance? Many of the hearing aids I sell today offer features such as phone connectivity, streaming music and streaming TV. I can link to a Multi Mic and enhance a hearing aid user’s ability to hear at parties, restaurants and presentations. Again, quoting Quartz, a company called Doppler Labs is working on computerized earbuds that can live translate languages. Star Trek’s Universal Translator is one step closer to reality! Will we someday be wearing the equivalent of Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home to answer all our questions right in our ears? That future may not be that far off. At that point, having the latest and greatest hearing aid might be something to brag about!