May 2018 Mashable
The world's first modular hearing aid is here, and it could change the game for people with total or partial hearing loss. Melbourne-based hearing aid designers Blamey Saunders won Australia's prestigious Good Design Award of the Year and the CSIRO Design Innovation Award for their groundbreaking device, dubbed Facett, at a glitzy ceremony at Sydney Opera House.
So, what makes this hearing aid different to other models? The device works with a core, linked to an app, and is powered by a rechargeable module, which magnetically clicks into place — for anyone who's tried to change a hearing aid battery in the dark, or had to have someone else change it for them, this is pretty neat.
Plus, while rechargeable batteries for hearing aids are pretty widely available now, zinc-air button disposable batteries are commonly used — and these can be super fiddly and often difficult for people with partial dexterity. Instead, the Facett has magnetic rechargeable battery modules that click easily into place. It lets you store one of two pairs of modules in a small portable drying and charging pod, which you can plug in when you go to bed, and it'll charge overnight for a day's listening.
“This product has incredible potential to make a very positive impact on people's lives who suffer from hearing loss. The use of rechargeable batteries and magnetic coupling is highly innovative," said the Good Design Awards judges' statement. "Every little detail of this product has been meticulously designed with the end use in mind, right down to the magnetic charging case, colour coded units for each ear and carefully considered design aesthetic."
That "carefully considered design aesthetic" is a genuine plus. The hearing aids themselves are slick as hell, with a geometric exterior and coming in gloss white, metallic rose gold, metallic silver, and matte black colours. According to Melbourne's RMIT, the design was inspired by the crystal forms in the Melbourne Museum's mineralogy collection. "The stunning jewel-like design does well to remove the stigma of hearing aids by drawing parallels to jewellery and wearable art," said the GDA judges.
As everyone's hearing is different, Facett’s settings are fully user-adjustable through a system called IHearYou® (a previous Good Design Award winner) which works on a smartphone, tablet or Windows computer—no audiologist required. The device also boasts high resolution sound, filtered through 96 output channels, and technology that isolates speech and reduces background noise.
Preorders for Facett are open now from Blamey Saunders' website. They're not cheap, with a single priced at AU$3,100 and a pair at $5,990, but this seems pretty average for hearing aids. Australian consumer advocacy group CHOICE places hearing aid prices anywhere between $AU$1,000 and $10,000, if you're not eligible for a basic free device through a body like Australian Hearing. Hearing aids aren't covered by Australia's public healthcare service, Medicare, although there are some exceptions.