Nov 2019 New Scientist
A 3D-printed hearing-aid which costs less than a dollar could make hearing aids accessible for those who currently can’t afford them. Saad Bhamla and Soham Sinha at Georgia Tech built the device using cheap off-the-shelf electronic components and a 3D printed casing. It is based on the first designs of hearing aids developed in the early 50s, which were body-warn devices with earphones attached. The pair built the hearing-aid to work for people who have age-related hearing loss, currently affects over 200 million people worldwide. This type of hearing loss is characterised by a difficulty to heard higher sound frequencies, so the device specifically amplifies those.
According to the non-profit World Wide Hearing, fewer than one in 40 people who need hearing aids in developing countries, can afford them. While very cheap personal sound amplification devices proliferate on the internet, these devices simply amplify all sounds, and are meant only for those with mild hearing loss. Bhamla and Sinha’s hearing aid currently has internal circuitry that is too loud according to World Health Organisation standards, but the team are working to reduce it.
Brad McPherson at the University of Hong Kong says he doesn’t know of any other hearing aids which are so cheap. Others have built low cost hearing aids, but they usually cost nearer $100 dollars, says Bhamla.
While hearing aids are notably expensive, their cost is not the sole reason for their low uptake. Even in countries where hearing aids are free, like in the UK, only two million of the suspected six million people who need them have taken up the offer. Many people don’t even realise they have hearing loss, and there is a stigma attached to wearing hearing aids.