iPhone music

iPhone calls and music to be streamed directly to hearing implants

Image credit: Dreamstime

Cochlear Ltd has announced that audio from Apple devices can now be streamed directly into its hearing implants without the need for additional devices.

The Australian company provides a range of devices to help restore hearing to people suffering from partial or complete deafness. Nucleus, its surgically implanted electrical simulation device, was the first cochlear implant approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. The hearing implant gathers sound from the wearer’s surroundings, transforms these vibrations into an electrical signal and delivers this signal to an electrode implanted in the ear of the wearer.

Cochlear’s sound processors are already compatible with mobile phones, although wearers are required to connect the sound processor to a Bluetooth device, typically worn around the neck like a lanyard, that can be paired with the phone or other device.

The new capabilities, which will be available in Cochlear’s new sound processor, the Nucleas 7, will allow audio to be streamed directly from an iPhone, iPad or iPod to the microchips within the implants.

“It’s the first time people with an iPhone will be able to pick up the phone normally, or just listen to music, without any additional devices,” said Jan Janssen, senior vice-president for research and development at Cochlear.

“It works pretty well but it’s not seamless,” said Russ Levanway, the founder of a small IT business, TekTegrity, who lost most of his hearing at four years old and uses a cochlear implant. “I have to join conference calls early and work out the glitches before the call starts […] to hear Apple is doing something that connects directly with the implant, that’s tremendous.”

Apple has worked with other hearing aid companies, Starkey and GN ReSound, which provide new devices which can connect directly to the iPhone. According to Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s director of global accessibility policy, a major challenge regarding the company’s work with hearing implants is that audiologists often prescribe unmatched sets of hearing devices, and often from different manufacturers.

“We had to figure out how you could do a bi-modal solution where you’re able to simultaneously pair, control and hear both of them running at the same time,” said Herrlinger. “That was a really interesting engineering opportunity for us to solve.”

The Cochlear upgrade is expected to be released in September; users will be able to upgrade their processor without the need for a new surgical implant.

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