I recently saw a video on the Hearing Loss of American Association (HLAA) Facebook page about a smart young man named Ethan Manuell. Ethan is an 8thgrade audiology patient who did a science project on extending the life of the tiny zinc oxide button cell batteries in his hearing aid. On one hand, I thought, good for you Ethan! But on the other hand, it struck me odd that someone so young would be using battery technology that is so old and expensive, requiring him to change the battery cells every few days. Why are hearing aid users stuck with using these tiny batteries? Why not have a hearing aid that can be charged as easily as the smartphone or a computer.
Traditional batteries have been around for more than 100 years. Oh sure, making batteries alkaline, or less acidic, did help extend the battery life and improve safety, but really, nothing much has changed. Then in 1991, Sony incorporated lithium-ion batteries in their products and the industry started to explode, literally. The batteries contained a liquid chemical mixture and the lithium ions reacted with metal impurities causing the batteries to overheat and explode. Luckily, science, engineering, and design came to the rescue. The lithium liquid chemical mixture has been replaced with a lithium polymer.
This battery history brings us back to hearing aid batteries, and more specifically, rechargeable hearing aid batteries. The newest polymer technology allows batteries to be created in interesting shapes, like tiny cylinders which are small enough and light enough to work in personal sound amplifiers and hearing aids. Disposable button cell batteries are expensive, hard to handle and are not environmentally friendly. Why would hearing aid companies continue to burden users with the hassle and cost of disposable hearing aid batteries? Only a small percentage of hearing aids are offered with rechargeable batteries but they typically come at a higher cost and with a charging system that costs as much as the expense of a few years of non-rechargeable batteries.
Sound World Solutions, was founded in 2007 by Dr. Stavros Basseas and David Green with the mission of bringing affordable and practical hearing amplifier devices to the nearly 1 billion people in the world who need hearing assistance. To make this dream work, we needed to make a product that was technologically advanced, easy for users to customize and at a price point much lower than the current hearing aid producers. We used the newest hearing aid technology and readily available consumer electronic components to keep our manufacturing costs low. The batteries in our original CS10 product are recharged using a charging station with clever and unique magnets to aid in the proper placement of the batteries on the charging station.
Our newest products come with rechargeable batteries that last up to 15 hours. The recently released Companion hearing aid has this elegant battery and power-saving design. We were able to redesign the system to use a standard charge cable and Micro USB plug so the recharging station is no longer required. In fact, we use the same cable design as an Android phone. Our users are free from the expense and irritation of disposable button cell batteries plus the Companion is the best-priced hearing aid at only $449. So Ethan, maybe a good topic for next year’s science fair is the future of batteries. Perhaps there will even come a time soon when hearing aids do not need batteries at all!
For more information on the Companion hearing aid, click here.
Michael Kilhefner is the VP Operations and Engineering Director at Sound Would Solutions. Michael joined SWS in 2012. He is responsible for Domestic and International Manufacturing Operations, Quality, and Electro-Mechanical Design Engineering.