Can you share more about the impact of Bluetooth LE Audio on the hearing loss community and hearing aid industry?
We’re really going to see a vast explosion of capabilities for people with hearing aids. Today, most hearing aids only amplify the sound around you. Now, that is an absolute life-changing thing for people with hearing loss. Although it sounds simple, there’s a lot of very clever audio algorithms that go into that. It’s why you go to an audiologist who will tune a hearing aid to match your specific needs.
The spec is all about making the experience flexible…so that you can get the audio you want when you want it on your hearing aid.
But those hearing aids by themselves bring certain limitations. People want them to be small. Generally, the electronics sit behind your ear, and that means the microphones aren’t facing the person in front of you. Often people will wear little lapel microphones in order to try and pick up the directional sound. We’ll be making those much easier for people to use, or you can just use your existing phone and put it down on the dinner table amongst your friends to act as a microphone.
The ability to connect up to your TV gets rid of issues associated with having the TV turned up on high volume. You can have people with different levels of hearing loss all individually adjusting their personal volume to get what they want. We have the ability, if you’ve got multiple TVs around, such as in a gym or pub, to select and tune into the TV you want to listen to.
When you’re talking on the phone, you’ll have the ability to take incoming voice to a hearing aid, but you might still want to use the microphone on your phone. So, the spec is all about making the experience flexible and easy to use, letting you make decisions whenever you want so that you can get the audio you want when you want it on your hearing aid.
And, the biggest thing of all, is it’s going to be compatible and interoperable. So, anybody with a hearing aid from any manufacturer should work with any phone. It will work with any TV or in any theater. If you want a little remote control to change the volume or decide what you want to connect to, that again can just be an everyday device that you use.
Now, it probably won’t all burst onto the market on day one. We have to go through the FDA and the European approvals, but features will start to roll out. And, as you can do more of the everyday things with it, it will help reduce the stigma of wearing a hearing aid.
Specifically, what will Bluetooth LE Audio’s Multi-Stream feature bring to users with both left and right hearing aids?
One of the clever bits that we’re doing, which hasn’t really been done in any standard method before, is sending audio to both left and right hearing aids. Today, you already have the same thing with earbuds and you transmit the left to one and the right to the other. But it’s typically done by sending the same stereo signal to both and have the earbuds decode it. It means the earbuds need a way to talk to each other in order to synchronize, which burns up power. We now have a lower power way of doing it very accurately. You need to render the music from both your left and right channel at almost exactly the same time. If it just shifts by about 20 or 30 microseconds, you start to get a really odd feeling that the sound is moving around in your head.
A number of companies have found proprietary ways to get around this. Often that involves adding a different radio inside your earbuds that’s actually transmitting through your head. With our new standard, that’s no longer necessary, as we’ve built all of the synchronization into the Bluetooth® signals
What we’re doing with audio is going to have a fundamental effect on the design of smartphones and our relationship to them.
Using Bluetooth technology, we found a way to send the signals independently to your left and your right hearing aid or earbuds and, at the same time, provide a synchronization signal so that they know exactly when they need to send that through to the little speakers that send the sound into your ears. And we can get that right within 20 microseconds. Although it’s designed for hearing aids, you can extend that out to use the same process if you wanted to have medical sensors that needed to be co-located either between your ears or maybe between something on your wrist and your ear to do an ECG.
So that’s one new feature that Bluetooth LE Audio offers: the ability to synchronize down to the microsecond level and to a number of different devices, whether it’s audio data going in or whether it’s physiological and medical data being streamed out.
How is Bluetooth LE Audio going to change the way we experience the world?
We’re already seeing innovation starting to take off as people do more interesting things with audio. What we’re doing with audio is going to have a fundamental effect on the design of smartphones and our relationship to them. And, if we look 10 years ahead, I think we’re going to be a lot less wedded to smartphones than we are today. Bluetooth® audio products are suddenly going to become the thing that we want to relate to all the time rather than a chunk of glass.