It sure doesnt look like a hearing aid. Designed by Ms. Sun Kyung Sunwoo, a student at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, and winner of Dysons Australian Design Award, the Wirear looks, well, more like a piece of wire than a hearing device. Its about half the thickness of a pencil, its bendable and it comes in lots of colors. The design is revolutionary, moving from the traditional behind-the ear model to a flexible, wire-shaped device that can be twisted to perfectly fit any wearing comfort needs.
And, even though Wirear has only reached the early design stage (sorry, cant buy one yet), we have seen the future and youre looking at it.
In traditional hearing aids, the microprocessors, circuitry and other pieces of high-tech gadgetry are stacked one upon another, creating the need for a larger package to contain and protect these electronics.
Student Sun Kyung Sunwoos design places the electronics in a line that fills the Wirear tube from one end to the other. This means that Wirears internal workings can fit into a much smaller space. Heres how Dyson describes it:
No longer are hearing aids a device that carry a prosthetic appearance; they can now be accepted as an elegant fashion accessory that aims to remove the disability stigma attached to existing products and their wearers.
Form and Function
Manufacturers are always comparing form the shape and aspect of a product and function the overall usability of a product, to determine what company management believes is the right combination. You can see how these appraisals of form and function change the shape and features of automobiles each year. Different design (form) different functions (additional options).
In the case of Wirear, the designer has combined form and function into a single, attractive, eye-catching hearing device (form) that also delivers clean, clear sound and wearing comfort to the user (function).
Power Up a Wirear
Another important innovation incorporated into the design of Wirear is the use of a micro fuel cell a miniature version of [a] fuel cell that uses hydrogen from any hydrocarbon fuel. Now, that doesnt mean Wirear will run on coal. In fact, micro fuel cell technology is still in the R & D stage but is expected to be a critical fuel source in the future.
In terms of function, the micro fuel cell contained in Wirear would last about six years, delivering more convenience (functionality) than the current generation of zinc-air hearing aid batteries. Batteries wouldnt have to be changed as often by users.
Wirear contains two flexible joints that can be twisted to fit the configuration of each wearers ear. Two small, copper wires run through these two joints delivering power and data where its required. This allows Wirear to be personalized by each wearer, and once a comfortable fit has been formed, the two moveable joints can be locked down to hold the shape of the Wirear. This eliminates the need to refit the device each time its worn. Set it once, lock it down and youre done.
All quality hearing devices deliver automated convenience. Adjustments to different listening environments are automatic. The device senses the ambient sound and adjusts itself accordingly, increasing or decreasing volume and microphone directionality to best suit current noise conditions.
In terms of the user, this automated convenience means that all of Wirears switches and controls are contained within the device. No wearer controls are avaialable.
This allows for the radically-distinctive design and the convenient quality of life some hearing aid wearers expect. The internal micro-computers in todays hearing aids simplify their use, regardless of shape or size. Its digital technology put to practical, beneficial use. However, some consumers still want the ability to make manual adjustments to both device positioning and sound quality as needed. This market segment would probably find the Wirears lack of user controls frustrating.
Various hearing devices use different placement of the microphone the part of the hearing device that picks up sound. Some hearing devices place the mic inside the ear canal itself (sound tube technology). The advantage of this open ear approach is that it allows the user to hear sound naturally to the extent that she or he is able, thus creating a more natural, comfortable hearing experience.
Wirear places the microphone at the front of the ear. This increases the devices ability to pick up sound, though sound coming from behind a wearer may not be as distinct. Microphone directionality is always an important consideration in the hearing health industry. Todays wearers expect it. Wirear delivers it.
Wirear puts the speaker the part of the hearing device that actually creates the sounds heard by the wearer inside the ear canal itself. The devices design still provides an open ear hearing experience. Further, according to Dyson, [this design will] reduce acoustic error resulting in improved sound quality and effectively decreasing the echo sensation Wirears design also substantially cuts down on feedback because of the linear layout of its internal parts.
Is This the Future of Hearing Aids?
Its innovative design, long battery life and wearing comfort are clearly targeted at the baby boomer generation, which may make Wirear a potential winner. But there are still consumers who will find increased wearing comfort and improved quality of sound in the traditional design of hearing aids from BTE (behind the ear units) to ITC (in the canal units).
Wirear may simply offer another consumer alternative one in which form and function come together to create a radically different, award-winning look for hearing devices.