On the 20th March 2019 Starkey launched the Livio AI hearing aid. This was the biggest event of the year because it is the first hearable hearing aid. What I mean by this, is that the Starkey Livio AI is the first hearing aid to introduce multiple sensors. These sensors mean that the hearing aid can track your daily activity such as how many steps you take, along with other features like fall detection and social engagement.
The day was kicked off by Brandon Sawalich, the current president of Starkey Hearing Technologies. He reports that the product has been out in the US for six months now where it has proven a huge success.
From his experience he feels there is a chronic lack of awareness amongst the general population about the capabilities of modern hearing technology but with Starkey Livio AI he expects this all to change.
He gave his 12 year old son a pair of the Starkey Livio AI hearing aids, he wore them to school and was able to stream music to his hearing aids in class and also translate his French class in to English. He was the first 12 year old to be grounded from his hearing aids.
The meaning behind this anecdote was that other children were asking him about what he was wearing and so were the parents. Technology in hearing aids has reached a pinnacle point where the function exceeds expectations. This means people will actively seek out this technology and will promote and recommend it to friends and relatives. This is why it is such a revolution.
The Hearing Aid Reinvented
Achin Bhowmik, Ph.D the chief technology officer and executive vice president of engineering took the platform next to discuss the science behind the Starkey Livio AI. He introduced his talk by saying Livio AI is the world’s first multi-purpose hearing aid with embedded sensors & artificial intelligence.
He talked about how phones started off as a single function device; they made phone calls. This then developed to become the phones of today which allow us to take photos, use satellite navigation access the internet and so much more. Hearing aids have always been single function devices; they helped with hearing….until now.
The new app by Starkey tracks your hearing and health activity. It encourages you to be more active and also more social. This is a holistic approach to health which reaches beyond what is capable of even the most advanced watch based smart technology.
It encourages you to have more social interaction to ensure that you are stimulating your brain. Hearing loss is the biggest factor in modifiable risk for cognitive decline and so this is a key feature to ensure that the user is getting access to appropriate social engagement and active listening environments, such as a restaurant or a café.
The purpose of the app is to motivate the user to increase their exposure to challenging auditory environments to train the hearing brain. This will help improve long term outcomes for hearing aid users.
The new fall detection feature of the Starkey Livio AI means that in the instance of the wearer falling over, it will contact their emergency contact which tells them when and where they fell over via an automated text message sent out.
To achieve this, they have had to use Artificial Learning so that the hearing aid recognises the motion of falling over. This is obviously a very different experience to just dropping the hearing aids on the floor and so you should never get a false alarm if you drop them or if you are lying down.
Using the power of AI they are able to use real time voice-to-text transcription. One of the most difficult things about hearing loss is the time it takes to process speech. It requires more effort for individuals with hearing loss to keep up with conversations and often a sentence or two may be missed. To overcome this, the Starkey Livio AI hearing aids are able to record and transcript speech in real time so the wearer can review the conversation later.
Travelling abroad? Your Starkey Livio AI hearing aid can translate up to 27 different langauges. They demonstrated that French could be translated in real time on stage. This translation is transcribed on to the app whilst simultaneously spoken in to the ear through the hearing aid. What was once science fiction, is now just science.
Using the in app voice assistant you can talk to your hearing aids with common requests like accessing the weather, and changing the volume of your hearing aids. To do this you simply double tap the hearing aid, you don’t need to bring the phone out of your pocket. This double tap feature makes accessing voice assistants much easier. I would also like to see this develop in to a spoken command much like the ‘hey siri’ and ‘alexa’ features which automatically instigates the voice assistant feature.
The hearing aid can perform self-diagnostic checks. It can examine the integrity of the receiver, microphone, the circuit and heart rate sensor. This is an amazing step towards enabling telehealth solutions. This technology will revolutionise the way we deliver care to our clients. It will help the user to ensure they are not making unnecessary visits to their audiologist freeing up time and improving hearing independence.
An amazing way to see this develop would be to automatically send out replacements for the broken parts if a fault is identified. After the diagnostic check is performed Starkey could ship out new parts to the audiologist ready for their appointment.
Along with all the other features it is still extremely important that the hearing aid does what it is supposed to, and it has to do it well. All the other features would be utterly pointless if the sound quality was poor. The user would immediately reject the device.
Starkey have developed what they call ‘Hearing Reality’. It is designed to be as natural as your hearing used to be. All hearing aid manufacturers promise this, but we know this isn’t the case. I suspect that the sound quality is on par with other manufacturers. Until I try the devices myself, I can’t give first hand feedback. I’ll be looking to do an extensive review of the sound quality and also the other features in the future.
They gave a few figures in their presentation saying that they have been able to reduce dynamic background noise by up to 50% compared to their previous generation. This sounds great but we aren’t aware of the figures.
For example, if it was only able to reduce background noise by 2dB in dynamic background noise before it means it may only be able to reduce it by 3dB now, which still wouldn’t be enough to help a lot of people with hearing difficulties. Until I get the data to know what the figures are from this study, we can take them with a pinch of salt.
Starkey have announced that the Livio AI will be available in a Lithium ion rechargeable format. This will give 24 hours of battery life. They claim it is the world’s smallest Lithium Ion rechargeable hearing aid; even smaller than the Signia Styletto.
As well as that, they have the most amazing portable rechargeable which is smaller than a deck of cards. It can fit in your pocket on the go.
Along with the Starkey Livio AI they have also launched a full range of hearing accessories. This includes a TV streamer, remote, remote mic +, and a mini remote mic.
The TV streamer uses Bluetooth to wirelessly transmit the sound from your television directly to your hearing aids to give you the best sound quality when watching your favourite TV program.
Remote Mic +
Remote Mic + has a built in loop system, direct audio input, directionality and an accelerometer to automatically select either conference or lanyard mode.
Conference mode is ideal for meetings and group discussions. You would place the accessory on the table and it will pick up all of the voices in the proximity of the microphones.
Lanyard is ideal for lectures or one-to-one discussions. This gives the best signal to noise ratio because it blocks out noise more effectively than in the conference mode.
Mini Remote Mic
Mini Remote Mic is a more basic version of the remote mic+. It is a more affordable option, but you lose a lot of the features that make the Remote mic + such a fantastic accessory to work alongside your hearing devices.
In the future they have promised that they will release the following features:
• Hydration sensor – this will tell you when you are dehydrated and need a glass of water
• Body temperature – to measure your body temperature
• Emotional tracking – depression and other issues can show up before signs of memory loss in people who go on to develop Alzheimers
• Sociability – Behavioural changes can precede memory loss in people who develop Alzheimers’. An objective measure of the changes can help a person and their family address concerns.
• Sleep assistance – getting enough quality sleep protects your mental health, physical health quality of life and safety.
• Adaptive fine tuning – allows users to tap into AI at any moment to refine hearing aid settings for diferent environments
• Expanded personal voice assistant – will be helpful and useful in many ways
To finish the day, we were fortunate enough to meet the founder of Starkey, William F. Austin. He had everybody captivated by his story. I found him incredibly humbling. I admired his honesty when talking about hearing products. He said, ‘I have never made or worn a hearing product that I would be happy to wear all day’. I loved this. It showed that he was aware of the current technological limitations of hearing aids in their present format and even the best technology in the world still struggles in background noise. Having that belief clearly is a driving force for him to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible with hearing technology.
Starkey have astounded me with the number of features on the new Starkey Livio AI hearing aid. I struggled to keep up with all the features and we didn’t even get time to cover the remote fine tuning features that are available via the app. I will continue to explore the Starkey Livio AI in finer detail in the future so watch this space.
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