In today’s rapidly advancing technological landscape, the integration of innovative solutions has opened up possibilities for increased accessibility. GN Hearing Japan, a leader in the hearing aid industry, has consistently been at the forefront of these developments, leveraging Bluetooth® technology to transform the lives of individuals with hearing loss.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Atsushi Okubo, product manager for GN Hearing Japan, about their contributions to the development of hearing aid solutions utilizing Auracast™ broadcast audio and how it will change the way people with hearing loss interact with the world around them.

Q&A With Atsushi Okubo From GN Hearing Japan

How were you involved in the development of Auracast™ broadcast audio?

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GN has helped pioneer the use of Bluetooth® connectivity in the hearing aid industry. In 2010, we introduced a direct-wireless device, removing the need for hearing aid users to wear cumbersome neck-worn products. We continued to work with Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) to develop proprietary protocols to stream audio for MFi and Android solutions to support direct phone connections.  

However, it quickly became apparent that the establishment of an industry standard could help reduce complexity and remove barriers to adoption that disadvantaged hearing aid users. Seeing the possibilities of an industry-standard protocol, not only for increased accessibility but also for the wider community, GN helped to set up a hearing aid working group within the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG). Since then, GN has taken a leading role in the development of Bluetooth LE Audio. 

How do you think Auracast™ broadcast audio will change the lives of people with hearing loss?

The number one challenge for people with hearing loss is hearing speech in noisy environments, and the ability to connect to other devices and stream audio is one of the biggest drivers of satisfaction, so Auracast™ broadcast audio has the potential to be life changing.   

Existing telecoil loop systems are available in larger venues, but they are not as widely available as they should be due to the cost and complexity of installation. Auracast™ broadcast audio can overcome some of these challenges.   

With Auracast™ broadcast audio, wearers will be able to listen to important announcements in public spaces, live performances in theatres, or movies in cinemas through their hearing aids. They will also be able to share what they are listening to with others around them or join in to watch a movie or hear a song that a friend or family member is enjoying using their hearing aids. 

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Why did you choose Bluetooth technology over other wireless technologies?

Existing Bluetooth® hearing aids from GN offer an incredible sound experience for people with mild-to-profound hearing loss. They also support audio streaming and hands-free calls from iOS and select Android devices. However one of the biggest demands over the years has been for a direct connection with PCs and the ability to connect seamlessly on multiple devices. 

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The needs of people with hearing loss are the same as those of people without: the ability to work in open offices or public spaces, easily take video calls, and connect to multiple multimedia devices at home and on the move. The challenge they face comes from the complication of wearing headsets and hearing aids simultaneously.

When you start mixing streamed and direct sound, as happens with hearing aids, then latency really matters. Bluetooth Classic in this situation can be a challenging experience, whereas Bluetooth LE Audio has much lower latency to meet modern user expectations. 

It also allows for multiple simultaneous connections and hands-free calls with Bluetooth LE Audio compatible devices, as well as higher sound quality with significantly lower battery consumption.  

What do you think people will be most excited about when they use the Auracast™ broadcast audio feature in their hearing aids?

It will be different for different people. Some will find the ability to hear announcements in public places life changing; it will remove anxiety and stress from travel, for example. For others, it will be the ability to tune in to specific screens in sports bars or the gym. And for everyone who has tried to listen to music or watch a film on the go by sharing headphones with a sibling or friend, the ability to share audio will be revolutionary. 

How do you think Auracast™ broadcast audio will impact the hearing aid market?

With the introduction of Auracast™ broadcast audio, it will become possible to hear public announcements in public places such as railway stations, buses, and airports. At the same time, the use of Auracast™ broadcast audio in private spaces, such as listening to audio from a TV, will also increase. Consequently, the use of Auracast™ broadcast audio will grow in both public places and private spaces.

By creating a level connectivity playing field between hearing technology and consumer electronics, we hope the implementation of Bluetooth® LE Audio and Auracast™ broadcast audio will remove some of the barriers experienced by individuals with hearing loss and bring hearing technology into the mainstream. This will ultimately lead to a more inclusive and connected society where individuals with hearing loss can fully participate in all aspects of life.

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