Testing Widex Moment, the hearing aid personalised with AI
Hearing aid manufacturer Widex claim they can transform the hearing experience by using AI to personalise a range of sounds. We tested the device and its app SoundSense Learn to see what this involved.
Widex is one of the only hearing aid manufacturers to use artificial intelligence to create more natural, personalised sound environments. The app works by presenting users with A-B comparisons to begin understanding how they prefer sounds in particular scenarios. As well as having presets for speech, 'natural' sound, and music, each of these has three settings for added clarity, brightness or noise reduction, that can be easily turned on or off via the app.
Our tester is a music journalist in his 40s who has had hearing problems in both ears for most of his life. He was very impressed with the warmth and richness of the music setting, as well as how much different settings could be adapted. "It has an almost infinite capacity for personalisation and fine tuning" he said.
It's easy to switch between presets with a button on the unit itself without having to keep accessing the app. There are also separate volume and equaliser settings for each unit, meaning settings can be fine tuned for each ear. All these profiles are saveable and editable.
Another remarkable feature is its unique machine learning capability to analyse the acoustics and background noise of frequently visited locations. "With some user feedback it learns to automatically tailor the signal to your hearing needs and preferences, and if you connect this to your GPS, it will automatically switch to those settings when you're in that location. So it could learn to adjust or tune out the hum from an air conditioning unit if I taught it the "office" setting for example."
The hearing aid also allows you to modify the balance of signal between the app and the real world. "You can stream music quietly while still being aware of or "present" in your environment, like conversations in the office, or listening out for the kettle, or you minimise environmental noise while you speak on the phone."
"You can also change the directional focus of the sound, so if you're at a conference or lecture you can amplify the sound from the stage in front of you and hear less from the people chatting on either side of you."
Audiologists are on hand to guide with the initial fitting via a remote consultation, and tune the settings to fit with a doctor's prescription or via a simple online hearing test. They also provide ongoing support.
The units are incredibly discreet and barely visible compared to conventional hearing aids. "They're very lightweight and it's easy to forget you're wearing them. Thin Tube technology transmits the signal via a very thin wire instead of having to wear a large plastic lump sitting in your ear canal. This means the in-ear component is comfortable, barely detectable, and leaves your ear feeling "open" and able to breathe."
"The processor is spectacular for something of this size - it takes microseconds to process and amplify input, so there's no perceptible lag between "real" sound and the amplified signal reaching your ear."
Overall, he describes the hearing aid as "life-changing, in terms of its capabilities, performance, and most importantly the clarity and natural quality of sound. It feels like an audiophile enhancement rather than a disability aid."
Head of Audiology at Widex Lise Henningsen explains that they've spent years optimising their hearing aids with machine learning and AI. “Our studies show that hearing aid users have a significant preference for the personalised settings achieved through artificial intelligence and machine learning, and that 80 per cent would recommend the function to others."
“With AI, they are more like new lifestyle ‘hearables,’ which are key contributors to ubiquitous computing, just as virtual assistants and smart watches are” Henningsen added.
Microsoft launches Tech for Social Impact for elderly care
Microsoft Tech for Social Impact, the tech giant's division offering tools for non profit organisations, has announced it is expanding to include aged care non profits around the world.
This means that non profit organisations helping elderly residents in nursing homes or with other daily support will now be eligible for technology grants and discounts of up to 75%, as well as training and capacity building to help with digital transformation.
The care home sector has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, caring for some of the most vulnerable people in society. As a result organisations around the world have been deploying innovative technologies, such as IoT to create monitoring solutions that enable independent living, through to AI-driven robots that provide companionship as well as alert the user's care team if there are any changes to their symptoms.
The German Red Cross (DRK) is an early adopter that is already benefitting from this programme expansion as part of Microsoft Tech for Social's pilot scheme. DRK provides services and assistance to over 40,000 people at more than 500 aged care facilities in Germany, with a further 90,000 receiving care in their own homes.
Thanks to Microsoft 365 cloud technologies such as SharePoint and OneDrive, along with Teams for communication, DRK was able to continue its daily work even at the height of the pandemic crisis. Residents of DRK facilities used Teams to keep in touch with relatives despite restrictions to visits, and there are plans to continue using these channels in the future to prevent isolation among residents.
Following the pilot’s success, the programme will offer discounts and grants to eligible organisations for its Microsoft cloud stack including Business Applications, Azure and Modern Work, leveraging the firm's sector-specific tools with Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofit which will be generally available in the second half of 2021.
Microsoft estimate that around 75,000 new non profit organisations around the world will be eligible for the programme.