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Voice Assistants Could be a Godsend For Hearing Aid Users

As hearing aid connectivity evolves and changes with the advent of Bluetooth LE Audio and the opportunities it brings, virtual assistants could become more integrated with hearing aids. The whole idea of virtual assistants such as Siri and Google Assistant is to make interaction with your mobile phone as simple as speaking to it. For older people who are perhaps a little afraid of their smartphone, that should be a godsend. More than that though, virtual voice assistants offer so much more than just easy interaction. They also offer much of what you would expect a real assistant could do for you. Let's talk about integrated hearing aid connectivity first, what it will mean and then what a virtual voice assistant could do for you.

Google Assistant

What Are Virtual Assistants?

A virtual assistant is a voice-first technology designed to offer easy interaction with a digital device. More than that though, they are designed to make a lot of digital tasks easier for whoever is using them. Siri, the Apple virtual assistant is perhaps one of the most famous, although Amazon's Alexa has quickly become ubiquitous as has Google's Assistant. There is also Bixby, Samsung's assistant and Cortana, which is Microsoft's assistant.

Siri Virtual Assistant

Integrated Hearing Aid Connectivity

Connectivity for hearing aids has increased dramatically over the last few years and there are now very few hearing aid types that are not Bluetooth enabled. While most of the devices are Made For iPhone, we have seen some of the manufacturers deliver true Made For Android hearing aids as well. However, the explosion in Made For Android hasn't happened as expected?

Where's All The Damned Made For Androids?

The advent of Bluetooth LE Audio took the wind out of the sales for the Made For Android protocol. When Bluetooth LE Audio becomes available, there may well be no real use case for Made For Android or Made For iPhone as we know them now. Because any hearing aid equipped with Bluetooth LE Audio capability will offer a deep and seamless audio connection to any device with a Bluetooth LE Audio radio onboard. Why go through all the trouble of integrating a protocol that will probably be superfluous soon one way or the other?

What Will Bluetooth LE Audio Offer

In essence, Bluetooth LE Audio will provide a secure, broad and low energy connection between hearing aids and smartphones. It will provide everything that Bluetooth Classic provides and more, all without the significant battery drain of Bluetooth Classic. That will mean low energy streaming both from the smartphone to the hearing aid and from the hearing aid to the smartphone. It will ensure that your hearing aids will be able to act more like a headset. That will mean hands-free calls with all Bluetooth connected hearing aids equipped with the protocol. It will also mean that integrating your hearing aid with your smartphone's virtual assistant will be simple. 

Using The Virtual Assistant

I spoke about using NuHeara IQbuds Max a little while ago, and one of the things I love about it and products like it is that it makes using the virtual assistant on my phone as simple as tapping the devices and then speaking. For many years, I have dreamed of a time when my hearing aids were my virtual assistant, giving me reminders, reading my emails, helping me send messages and so much more. Using NuHeara IQbuds allows that to happen, but they aren't a full-time solution for a person with hearing loss. Imagine all hearing aids came with the same functionality?

Starkey has already made it possible with their Livio AI hearing aids, you can use their virtual voice assistant through your hearing aids by simply tapping on your hearing aids twice which allows the Thrive Assistant to wake up and listen to what you have to say. With the introduction of Bluetooth LE Audio across hearing aids, all hearing aids will be capable of functionality like this. It will mean that everyone with an equipped hearing aid will have simple and easy access to the virtual assistant on their phone. So imagine being able to simply double-tap your hearing aids to instantly talk to your digital assistant? That delivers huge opportunity to simplify your life. Let's talk about how.

What Can a Virtual Assistant do?

That isn't the proper question, hahaha, it's more like what can't a virtual assistant do? Basically, Google, Siri and Bixby can help you do pretty much anything with your mobile phone, read your messages out loud, send new messages for, make phone calls, open apps and so much more. The virtual assistant can make your interaction with your phone easier, but it can also make your life easier. You can ask it to remind you of pretty much anything, set up appointments in your scheduler on the move, find the nearest Italian restaurant, and multiply 583 by 613. Although why you would need the answer for 583 by 613 seems unlikely.

Here is a list of many of the things you can do. Anything between the (...) is interchangeable.

Device control and tools

  • Turn Wi-Fi on/off
  • Turn Bluetooth on/off
  • Turn my flashlight on/off
  • Turn airplane mode on/off
  • Turn up/down the volume
  • and a lot more

Time, weather and current information

  • What time is it in (Instanbul)?
  • What time zone is (Las Vegas) in?
  • When is the sunset tonight?
  • When's the sunrise in (Dublin)?
  • Do I need an umbrella today?
  • Is it going to rain this weekend?
  • When is it going to rain next?
  • What's the weather in (Copenhagen)?
  • Will I need a jacket tomorrow?
  • How hot is it gonna be on (Saturday)?
  • When's the next (your favourite sports team) game?
  • What was the score of the (your favourite sports team game last night?
  • and so much more

Location and navigation

  • How's the traffic to work?
  • Is (Walmart) open right now?
  • How late is (Target) open?
  • What time does (Home Depot) open tomorrow?
  • What's a good (Italian) place near me?
  • What's the best (Fajitas) nearby?
  • What restaurants are near me?
  • and a whole lot more

Messaging and communication

  • Text (Geoff) that (I'm running late)
  • Send text to (Steve), mobile -- (how are you?)
  • Send email to (Dave) -- (I'll get back to you in 20 minutes)
  • Send email to (Jenny Smith). Subject: (meeting) Body: (I will have both the quote and written proposal with me for the meeting)
  • And so much more

There is so much more than just this available to you through simple voice commands. If you want to see a whole lot of Google assistant commands, go to the article "OK, Google: 160 valuable voice commands for Android". For Siri, you can take a look at the article "The best funny and useful Siri commands for iOS and MacOS".

I for one can't wait until I can use my virtual assistant with ease through my hearing aids. It will bring me one step closer to Bob, let me explain.

Bob You Beautiful Man

Up to now, Bob was my imaginary friend, I have spoken about him before but it looks like he will be real soon enough. He is a personal assistant that lives in my hearing aids and keeps me on track every day because I seriously need someone to keep me on track every day. In my imagination, I ask Bob what I am doing and he not only tells me where I need to be, who I need to see but also how I am to get there.

He updates me constantly on the information I need such as the weather, whether my flight is late and what the delays are on my route and how to avoid them. While Bob doesn't exist, the functionality I dream of is inherent in virtual assistants. In the future, we will have easy and simple access to them via our hearing aids.

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Geoffrey Cooling

Geoffrey Cooling

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Geoffrey (Geoff, anything else makes him nervous) Cooling is an Irish hearing aid blogger and has been involved with the hearing aid industry since 2007. He has worked in private practice dispensing hearing aids and as a manufacturer's rep. He has written two books and they are both available on Amazon. He loves technology, passing on knowledge and is legendary for many other things, primarily the amount he curses, his dry and mischievous sense of humour and his complete intolerance of people who are full of themselves. Please feel free to connect with him.

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