Jan 2020 iNews

The next generation of Bluetooth will greatly improve accessibility for people with hearing impairments through smaller, slimmer hearing aid batteries and the ability to connect to new audio sources, according to new technology revealed at the CES tech show. Bluetooth technology allows devices to connect wirelessly over a short distance, including smartphones, tablets, headphones, smartwatches and many modern hearing aids. Bluetooth SIG, the industry group that defines the technology standard, announced Bluetooth LE (standing for low energy) at CES 2020 in Las Vegas.

The umbrella term for new updates, Bluetooth LE includes higher quality audio, better support for wireless headphone buds and the ability for multiple people to tune into the same audio stream.

As Bluetooth LE is much more power-efficient than its predecessor Bluetooth Classic, it can be added to a much wider range of slimmer and smaller hearing aids, Ken Kolderup, Bluetooth's vice president for marketing, said. Rather than simply amplifying external sounds, new hearing aids that support Bluetooth LE will give their wearers the chance to listen to audio stream directly from the source, conserving their battery power.

"Bluetooth audio has brought huge benefits for a huge percentage of the global population, including wireless voice calling and voice control services like Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant," he said.n"The hearing loss community generally hasn't really been able to participate in this, but this update allows them to do all these things directly from their hearing aid, meaning they can sync into any kind of Bluetooth audio source, whether that's a laptop, phone, tablet or television through a paired app on their smartphone or other devices."

New feature multi-stream allows a device such as a phone to stream audio to multiple other devices, for example, being able to listen into the programmes the silent TVs in airports and gyms are playing or real-time translation for foreign language films in the cinema "Theatres, airports, gyms and waiting rooms could start to broadcast Bluetooth audio to augment visitors' experience through headphones, meaning people with hearing loss could also participate through their hearing aids," Mr Kolderup added.

New electronic devices will begin to support the new Bluetooth standard, meaning within the next few years many people with enabled hearing aids will be able to hear the same audio streams as people without hearing loss. Stefan Zimmer, secretary general of the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (EHIMA), said LE Audio will be "one of the most significant advances for users of hearing aids and hearing implants”. "EHIMA engineers have contributed their specialist knowledge to improve the audio experience especially for hard of hearing people. As a result, within a few years, most new phones and TVs will be equally accessible to users with hearing loss.”

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