When it comes to wearable technology for health applications, you could argue that the only class of product that has been around longer than the hearing aid would be eyeglasses. But while Ben Franklin would still recognize today’s eyeglasses, hearing aid technology has been revolutionized by the digital processing industry. One particular component bears witness to the amazing advances in this market: the microphone. A hearing aid has to be able to detect sounds in order to amplify them for the wearer, and this requires a microphone. A new breed of microphone based on micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology combines both moving and solid state components (much like the chip use to create images in a DLP projector). The result is a high-performance device with low power requirements and amazingly small dimensions.
Knowles Corporation is the leader in MEMS microphones for hearing aid applications. Some of their devices are less than 2 tenths of an inch on a side, and less than 1 tenth of an inch thick. This makes them practical for tiny products, such as hearing aids that can fit entirely inside the wearer’s ear canal. The company recently announced that they have shipped 2 million MEMS microphones for the hearing health industry. Their microphones are used by major manufacturers including Starkey Hearing Technologies, GN Resound, and Beltone.