Dr. Achin Bhowmik and his team tackle hearing aid stigma head on

In the latest episode of Starkey’s podcast, Sound Bites, our host, Dr. Dave Fabry, talks to Starkey’s Chief Technology Officer and EVP of Engineering, Achin Bhowmik, Ph.D. The two cover a lot of ground detailing how artificial intelligence (AI), Bluetooth technology, and embedded sensors enabled Dr. Bhowmik and his team to revolutionize hearing aids from a single-purpose device that few were willing to wear to a multi-use, multi-function tool that people will want to wear.

In the excerpt below, the two lay out the challenge. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Achin Bhowmik, Ph.D. — Which engineer doesn't want a good challenge, right? It's all about problem solving. If you think about the world of technology, there is the curiosity part of it where we just want to know things. We want to know how things work. And the moment we wanted to call ourselves ‘engineer’, we take on an additional responsibility of solving problems.

I heard a lot in 2017 when I joined Starkey, that there's this big stigma about hearing aids. I think we still have them. We haven't solved them quite, but what a challenge, right?

Hearing aids are devices that have become so useful and essential for someone who is struggling to hear. I've seen plenty of them: people come in, they get a good pair of hearing aids, perfectly fitted with a capable professional and then they leave in tears. They cry, right? So the value is clear.

Well, then there's this historical stigma with assistive devices. What an awesome problem to work on, right? So how do you go about that?

First of all, make cool devices. When you pick up an iPhone or a well-designed piece of technology — your Tesla car or your Apple watch or any good device — it's got a coolness with it. It's the way the industrial design goes, right? So we did that.


Number two, who doesn't like to track health and be warned of a problem that they might have? That's the path we're on with sensors built in, with machine learning that tracks my physical activities, social engagement and more. I don't need to get other peripheral devices around my body because Evolv AI hearing aids are multifunctional and do it all. How cool is it?

For instance, take my gardener who's a Spanish speaking individual. I don't speak Spanish, he doesn't speak much English. But I can double tap my Evolv AI device and bring up a translator or go to my mobile app and bring up a translator. And my hearing aid — now being connected to the Cloud via the smartphone — has infinite amount of computing resources available to translate from any language to any language between 27 languages.

It allows me to have a one-on-one conversation. I do have to be patient with the 50 millisecond delay that's required for the Cloud, but guess what? Much better than having a human translator in between me and my gardener, right?

Dr. Dave Fabry — A really exciting feature that we've added recently for iPhone users is the ability to use the hearing aid microphone to pick up my voice when I'm talking. We call it 2-Way Audio.

Achin Bhowmik, Ph.D. — This was clearly a feature that was of strong demand. And I've learned from you and others that when you had the first hearing aids that could actually stream audio from the iPhone and subsequently from the Android phones into the hearing aid, the value of the hearing aids went up for people because suddenly it became their ear buds for taking phone calls, streaming music and audiobooks.

The natural next step was to have this to be bidirectional. Now the hearing aid's microphone can be used for picking up your phone call so you can have the phone somewhere else. We are the first ones to announce the readiness with this technology and it’s just a great testament of partnership with Apple.

So the hearing aids, now with these additional functions, are going to help people live better lives more than their core function of the hearing enhancement, which already leads them to live better lives.

I believe we are way on our journey to make hearing aids so essential and cool that we will chip away at the stigma.


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By Starkey Hearing