I’ve already said a few times that I’m a big tech-head and that I think it’s going to be very natural for me to spend a lot of time researching the myriad stuff going down the pipe for hearing loss, so if you’re not into that, you won’t dig this. I like talking about all of the possibilities that these developments could represent for Alex, though, since a lot of it is what personally keeps me sane when I think about the stuff Alex won’t be able to experience or the stuff he’ll HAVE to deal with using today’s tools.
CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is a big annual show where all of the gadget companies show off their latest and greatest to drum up hype. It’s gotten large enough that the heavy hitters at the show get coverage from major news outlets. The 2014 convention just wrapped up, and among some nerdy things that I can’t wait to get my hands on, one of the larger themes of the products there was wearable technology, primarily in the form of smart watches (you’ll know all about them when Apple releases theirs). There were a few VR helmets on display and a few Google-Glass like devices too.
There are a few things that I’m really digging up about the push of wearable technology in relation to Alex’s hearing loss and his potential usage of assistive technology.
- It signifies a big push and vote of confidence from the companies involved that miniaturization of high-powered devices is at a point where it will be accepted by mainstream customers, and that further miniaturization will continue to be chased down. This will translate to more readily available and powerful hardware that can be used in the assistive devices Alex might be able to take advantage of. If we’re specifically talking about cochlear implants, that’s going to mean smaller BTE (Behind The Ear) pieces, and later on, components that are small enough to be completely implanted while still being very powerful. The same idea would apply to microphones.
- Wearable technology might make body-networking more popular, which will lead to improvements. Body networking is basically a wireless network that uses your body as a physical medium instead of cables. It’s superior to wireless networking because it’s more secure (someone has to be touching you in order to be on your network) while carrying a more reliable signal than wireless (not as prown to interference). This could potentially lead to doing away with the conspicuous wire and magnet that connect cochlear implants to the BTE speech processor (my biggest qualm with the appearance of the tech).
- The proliferation of body-worn tech might get to the point where it’s very common place, making cochlear implants less socially strange at a general level. This one isn’t way too important to me, but I’ve read some sad-ish stories of parents who can see people staring at their children or dealing with rude questions. I’m thinking that miniaturization will play a much larger role in allowing users of CIs or powerful hearing aids to not get strange looks because of their hardware, but it’s something.
- Better, smaller batteries OR body-powered devices. Cell phones have driven compact battery performance through the roof over the past ten years, especially since the iPhone popularized the “your whole phone is a touchscreen” trend. It’s funny to think about now, but I remember reading all of the skepticism on gadget forums about how the iPhone would be a certain flop because its battery performance MUST be garbage, and that was only seven years ago. With wearable tech, development of technology that can charge off of a person’s body (through heat, kinetic energy, etc) becomes a more desireable feature. Obviously for hearing tech, this equates to smaller devices with smaller, longer-lasting, or even non-existent batteries.
I’m excited to see this stuff start to take off. It’s clearly in its infancy right now, but the qualities of these devices are pretty similar with those of assistive hearing technologies. The more brainpower involved in these areas, the better for Alex.
So there’s CES, and that’s why I’m now particularly excited that devices like smart watches and fitness trackers and Google Glass are gaining momentum.
I have a few other things I’ve dug up about assistive tech, but I feel like I just wrote a boring enough wall of text above and I’d better stop here.