microphone-1209816_1280Following on from my blog post outlining an A-Z of Digital, here is “H is for Hearable”.

A Hearable is a device that enhances or adapts our hearing. The most common developments in this area is the hearing aids to help with hearing and the headphones.

Hearing aids have come a long way from being a large unit sometimes carried on straps around the body to small devices that fit around the back of the ear. There have also been developments which implants have been used to enhance these devices helping the user to hear sounds. Headphones have also used these developments with Bluetooth earpieces that allow the user to listen and talk as an extension to a mobile phone.

Bone Conducting devices allow a device to be placed next to the ear and allow sound to be heard by sending sound from transducers to the inner ear through the skull. This technology allows the user to hear a conversation or sounds through the transducers whilst still being able to hear the surrounding environment. Popular with runners as they can hear the traffic for crossing the road whilst listening to a podcast or music.

Devices are being developed to provide Layering to the sounds to allow the filtering out of some sounds and allowing others. You can purchase noise cancelling headphones today that filter out all of the background noise, however some of this we may still need to hear. Going the other way, Personal Sound Amplifier’s are also available on the market for boosting sounds. Working in a similar way to a hearing aid, a search and rescue team use them for listening for small faint sounds of someone trapped under rubble in a building collapse. shrinking these devices and placing one in every teams ears increases the chances of someone being found in this scenario.

Language translation is another growing area in hearables. The Babel Fish first introduced in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams has spurred a range of companies to design a 21st century digital version in the form of hearable that can translate languages.

“The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier, but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish”

Source: http://hitchhikers.wikia.com/wiki/Babel_Fish

We are not walking round with small, yellow, leech-like fish in our ears, however we are using the next best thing – the Earbud. Language translators and headphones are being modeled around this concept, providing a compact device that can fit inside your ear with enough charge to keep it running for a few hours and  recharging when placed back into its carry case.

The next level of hearables will probably take the form of thin tattoo electronics that could be placed on the skin around the ear and provide bone conduction through small. Hand Phone anyone?  (Total Recall 2012) Just place it against a solid surface…”