Google should develop a hearing aid

Published by Michael Carrano on November 01, 2013

Google is developing a lot of great technologies that vastly improve the world we live in. With projects such as Loon, Driverless Cars and Calico, it makes me wonder what else can be done.

After being contacted by a Google recruiter, to see if I am interested in a position at the company, it got me thinking. If given a chance to talk with Larry or Sergey about an idea that could impact millions of people, what would it be?

I believe an idea that would make a tremendous impact on millions of people, would be Google powered hearing aids.

Hearing loss is extremely common in the population (especially among the elderly). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that as many as 360 million people worldwide suffer from hearing loss. That is a lot of people who have difficulty hearing the information they need in order to excel at school, do their job, or just enjoy a night out with friends. In fact, I have hearing loss in both ears and have been wearing hearing aids since I was in elementary school.

Over the years, the technology in hearing aids has improved greatly. However, in my opinion, if Google were to proceed with creating a hearing aid, the technology would accelerate at a pace never before seen. I first used a hearing aid that simply amplified noise around me, that was worn behind my ear. Depending on the environment, I either had a pleasant experience with the hearing aid or I just wanted to turn them off (which I often did). If I was in a quiet environment, such as a classroom, then the hearing aid was beneficial. Yet if I moved outdoors, where cars were driving around, I was able to constantly hear all that noise.

Later on, I transitioned to a new hearing aid model that was in the canal. I switched to this type of hearing aid for several reasons. The behind the ear hearing aid was uncomfortable to wear with glasses. Also, I was heading to high school and didn’t want others to know I wore them. Essentially I made the switch because I outgrew the pair I had been wearing. The technology in the canal hearing aid was a bit better, as it could filter out some of the background noise that made wearing hearing aids uncomfortable.

I actually purchased a new pair of hearing aids a few months ago, that pack in even more technology than before. Again, this is an ‘in the canal’ model which is very tiny. It is impressive how advanced the technology behind noise filtering is, what with the multi-directional sound (previous hearing aids only worked well if you were speaking in front of me), the ability to automatically adjust volume based on my environment, and much more. Some hearing aid models even have bluetooth support.

Now that I have covered the history of the hearing aids I have worn and the technology they use, what would a Google powered hearing aid offer?

A Google powered hearing aid would obviously have the same technology as today, but hopefully improve the various algorithms used to filter noise and detect environments. In addition, it would also be able to support Google Translate.

People speak many different languages and travel all over the world, which can sometimes make communication difficult. Imagine, wearing a device in your ear that could process any spoken language and then translate it to the language of your choice. You would instantly be able to understand anyone who spoke to you, regardless if you were fluent in the language or not.

I know there are already ways to assist communication in different languages, but the methods are not simple and come with a delay. Conversations should flow naturally, not with pauses caused by a translator relaying information to you or waiting for an app to translate a sound into words.

Not only should the Google powered hearing aid automatically translate languages for you, but it should also be able to keep notes on the conversations you have with people. How many times have you been in a situation where you could not quite remember what Bob said earlier in a meeting? Or maybe you were daydreaming while someone talked to you and you nodded along in agreement, without really knowing what you were nodding about? Using the Google powered hearing aid, you would be able to reference notes and sound clips at a later time.

Now that I have described what a Google powered hearing aid could be, the next question to ask is… Is it even possible? At the moment, I think a lot of the functionality would need to be off loaded to a secondary device (a smart-phone), as the hardware required for this would not fit into the tiny form factor of a hearing aid.