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This company wants to use your smartphone to combat hearing loss – here’s how

HeardThat is a hearing assistance app that makes use of the devices you already own to cut out background noise in loud and distracting environments.

Singular Hearing Inc. launched HeardThat in 2020 and we got the chance to discuss the mobile app with CEO Dr. Bruce Sharpe at CES 2021 this month.

So, how does it work?

HeardThat uses machine learning algorithms in the app to minimise noise levels during a conversation, making it easier for those with hearing loss to chat in busy settings.

While this may sound similar to the ANC commonly found in headphones these days, the technique isn’t the same. Rather than examining the frequencies and suppressing everything it picks up, HeardThat uses machine learning to listen to the mixture of speech and noise, identify which is which and remove the noise to leave just the voice.

More effective than hearing aids

The app also sets itself apart from hearing aids by making the devices you already own, including your phone and your headphones, do all of the hard work.

According to Singular Hearing Inc., almost 40 million people in the US are diagnosed with hearing loss but only 20% use hearing aids. The company cites the lower effectiveness of hearing aids in noisy environments and price as possible reasons for this statistic.

This often results in people with hearing loss retreating socially when out for lunch or meeting with friends. In fact, the inspiration for HeardThat came from Sharpe’s own father-in-law who wore hearing aids and experienced a similar withdrawal from social situations when out in group settings.

HeardThat works with hearing aids and cochlear implants by improving upon their ability to cancel out noise in these environments.

“If you’ve paid thousands of dollars for your hearing aid, paying a little bit more for an app that can help with this problem seems like a good proposition for people”, said Sharpe.

Of course, if you haven’t already invested in a pair of hearing aids, there’s also the option to use HeardThat with regular earbuds and headphones. The app supports both, including wired and Bluetooth-supported devices.

The app isn’t just for social settings

While HeardThat is great for meeting with friends at coffee shops and restaurants, the app’s users have made use of the tech for a variety of situations.

Many HeardThat users use the app to reduce background music and bring forward dialogue when watching TV. Others use the app while out shopping or driving their car.

“We’ve had a few of our users tell us some interesting use cases that we hadn’t thought of ourselves at first. One was a doctor and she says when she’s doing her rounds at the hospital this really helps her hear because there’s a lot of noise in hospitals. In another case, a mother wrote in that her son has to do his education online these days. He has some kind of learning disabilities and so on, and he finds that using HeardThat helps him focus that much more by removing some distracting sounds, so there’s a focus element of it as well”.

The future of HeardThat

Singular Hearing Inc. only sees the app becoming more important as the baby boomer generation grows older and the younger generations experience the long term effects of loud music and games on their ears later in life.

While the company has no plans to create a HeardThat device, there are a number of other applications it has in mind for the tech, including removing noise in the workplace and improving audio for YouTube videos.

HeardThat is currently available for both iOS and Android phones at no cost, though there are plans to charge for the app later down the line. Sharpe stated that products in this category are typically $10 a month/$100 a year, but promised that there will always be a free tier for those looking to experiment with HeardThat or to use the app casually.

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