As we reported last month, the FDA won’t enforce regulations requiring exams and prescriptions for hearing aids. And we predicted that we will see a lot of innovation — and perhaps even lower-priced products — to help people with impaired hearing in 2017. We didn’t have long to wait; CES 2017 had many examples of new hearing assistance devices with a wide range of features. Perhaps the most intriguing, however, is the Opn from Oticon.
The company claims that their product is “the world’s first hearing aid that connects to and interacts with the Internet.” I tend to push back against claims of “first” but this one appears to be warranted. Other hearing aids connect to smartphone apps so that you can adjust levels and choose different settings for different room conditions. But the Opn goes much further than that. One of the key features is that you can interact with other Internet-connected devices ranging from smart home doorbells to television sets. It uses the free IFTTT (IF This Then That) service, so you can create your own “recipes” to trigger actions. For example, you can make your coffee maker start when you first turn on your hearing aids in the morning. You can get an alert if someone presses the doorbell. You can even have the hearing aid settings change automatically when you arrive at work or at home. It even works with voice commands given to an Amazon Echo.
The Opn device also streams sound directly from your smartphone, for phone calls or music, so you can hear anywhere. A wireless adapter connects to your TV or most other audio devices so that the sound is streamed directly to your ear pieces. With these types of innovation, people with impaired hearing are going to get a lot of new features that will make the use of hearing aids a lot more convenient and effective.