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Hearing Aids Get Boost from Smartphones

IOWA CITY, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - In as few as five years, people with hearing aids could be doing something as simple as walking from a quiet house out onto a noisy street, and the device in their ear could automatically adjust to fit that exact situation.

It would be thanks to researchers at the University of Iowa, who hope to eventually integrate hearing aids with the cloud, streaming real-time audio data compiled worldwide back to the listener, regardless of location.

Max Molleston is a participant in a study being conducted at the university, and he uses a smartphone app designed by UI researchers to log things he hears on a daily basis. When Molleston swipes into the app, it asks him a series of questions about what he was just hearing.

"Were you listening to speech? Yes, I was listening to speech," Molleston said, after starting the survey. The app can ask Molleston questions in random two-hour intervals, or he can input information himself whenever he wants. Lead researcher Octav Chipara said that allows them to gather more accurate information, because the participant doesn't have time to forget about the sounds he heard.

The app also wants to know how Molleston's hearing aid reacts to the sounds he hears.

"In general, could you tell where the sounds were coming from right away?" Molleston read from the app. "Oh, not necessarily."

Researchers can use that data to help adjust Molleston's hearing aid as the study continues, Chipara said, which has already proved helpful to Molleston.

"I can hear a lot of sounds a lot better, sound that I wasn't hearing, like the mail main driving up, you'd think everybody would hear that sound," Moleston said, imitating the gentle "putt, putt, putt, putt" of a mail truck.

The researchers are gathering data from dozens of hearing-imparied participants in eastern Iowa. The hope is, they'll be able to create a better hearing aid, and also, feed unlimited amounts of situation-based sound information to those hearing aids from the cloud.

"If you go to the symphony as opposed to a rock concert, your hearing aid should reflect a different configuration, which would give you the best hearing experience for that specific situation," Chipara said.

That's good news for Molleston, who hopes the research will help others.

"I just want people to hear better. If they're short of their hearing, they're missing out on a lot of life," he said.
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