According to statistics from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 2 to 3 of every 1,000 children in the US are born with a detectable level of hearing loss. With that, about 15 percent of adult Americans report some level of hearing troubles—whether from a condition present since birth or something that has developed over time. Hearing loss can stem from a variety of factors and presents in a range of ways: auditory processing disorders occur when the brain struggles to process the information carried through sound; conductive hearing loss describes a physical problem with the ear that either prevents or interferes with sound traveling to the inner ear; sensorineural hearing loss happens when damage to the cochlea and/or auditory nerve prevent the ear from sending accurate information to the brain; and a mixed hearing loss occurs when an individual experiences a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss in some way.
Treatments for these varying conditions are wide ranging, but the continual challenges facing people who want to hear better and the diverse array of conditions they can experience has given way to a robust research field of advancements in hearing technology in recent years.
Evident of this is the latest advancement in the field to come from Minnesota-based Starkey Hearing Technologies—the Livio AI hearing aid, the first hearing aid to use integrated sensors and artificial intelligence technology. Starkey is currently the only privately held, American-owned hearing technology company in the United States, headquartered just outside the Twin Cities in Eden Prairie. The company’s leadership defines its mission as connecting people and helping them to hear and live better.
The Livio AI works by integrating AI and 3D motion sensors to detect movement, track activities, and recognize gestures. “The hearing aids communicate with each other and Livio AI’s ecosystem of compatible mobile accessories to deliver meaningful, real-time feedback about users’ overall body and cognitive health and fitness,” Achin Bhowmik, Starkey’s chief technology officer and executive vice president of engineering, explained to Twin Cities Geek. This allows the Livio to be much more than a hearing aid—it also acts as a tool for tracking physical activity and for recording and measuring overall health and wellness. The device is compatible with Starkey’s new mobile app, Thrive Hearing, as well as the company’s range of wireless accessories. It is also the first hearing aid that can to connect with Amazon’s Alexa.
“Adding sensors to the device helps it imitate and copy the human perceptual system,” Bhowmik added. “Using embedded 3D sensors lets Livio AI replicate the human vestibular system, which is responsible for balance and spatial orientation. It uses artificial intelligence to enable the hearing aids to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.”
A general perception of artificial intelligence research often places it at the forefront of tech companies such as those out in Silicon Valley, but the technology behind it is much more closely tied to biomedical engineering and research than one might initially think. Bhowmik himself spent 17 years working for Intel before taking on his role at Starkey.
“I’ve always been passionate about developing technologies such as sensors and artificial intelligence,” he says. “My focus at Intel was to use these technologies to make more intelligent machines, which was amazing.” Bhowmik was then presented with a change in perspective through a unique opportunity with Starkey: “‘Do you want to use the same technology—instead of focusing on making more intelligent and smarter machines—to help people perceive and understand the world better?’ I knew then that it was time to start a new chapter in my career. I wanted to help more people lead better, more fulfilled lives.”
With its fusing of biomedical engineering and and artificial intelligence technology, the Livio has the potential to effect change for millions of people around the world. Starkey’s goal with the device is to not only increase access to this kind of technology but decrease the general stigma surrounding hearing loss as well.
The Livio AI hearing aid is currently available in the US and Canada and should reach 20 more countries through its global rollout in 2019.