Hearo is a collar that uses directional vibrations to alert the hearing-impaired in relevant situations, providing spatial and social cues when their hearing aids cannot.
Hearing impairment affects almost 9 million people in the UK, and 366 million people worldwide. Approximately 42% of people over 50 have some kind of hearing loss. What’s more concerning is that recent studies show that people with hearing loss are up to 5 times more likely to develop dementia.
This project is designed for my father, who has lost his hearing dramatically over the past few years. By studying the daily lives of hearing-impaired patients like him and their caretakers, I discovered some of the most challenging aspects of severe-hearing loss. Hearing aids can only help so much—sounds can be ampflied by the device, but the proximity and directional aspects get lost, reducing the spacial awareness. Simple routines, such as crossing the street become more dangerous because they cannot sense vehicles approaching. Busy environments that were once central to a person's social life, such as restaurants, become annoying because of the loud noise percieved through hearing aids, leading to social isolation and depression, which in turn may be one of the contributing factors to dementia over time. Often, patients cannot sense their own volume so they often speak very loudly, making others uncomfortable especially when in public. In turn, the awkwardness may cause them to lose confidence or others to exclude them, and again risk social isolation and depression.
Hearo is designed to address these issues. It senses trigger sounds—such as your name being called or cars driving by—the direction of those sounds, and translates them into vibrations around the neck. It also can connect with smart home devices such as doorbells and alarms, and provide haptic feedback for a users’s own speech volume. Hearo does what the hearing aid cannot, it provides the subtle cues for users to sense the space around them and to stay socially engaged, reducing the risk of depression, isolation, and dementia.
Hearo vibrates in the direction of the sound source, with different vibration patterns corresponding to different alert types:
There is often stigma for hearing loss because it is associated with old age and deteriorating health. Patients commonly delay their use of hearing aids, and when they do get them, they want ones that are discreet. Hearo aims to quell the stigma of hearing loss by creating an aesthetic that represents modernity, technology, and playfulness.
Both the ear and neck were explored as potential locations for directional sound input and haptic feedback. Both can work with existing hearing aids. Additionally, the ear clips could be a new kind of hearing aids that also provides haptic feedback.
Several "looks like"prototypes was created by 3d-printing a CAD models of the the necklace and ear clips. A "works-like" prototype was prototyped using the following electronics, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and ReSpeaker multi-directional microphone sensor.
Having lived with a father who has lost his hearing because of cochlear malfunction, I’ve already had a lot of insights to his daily challenges. As part of my research, I also interviewed: