Over 200 million people over the age of 65 around the world struggle to hear well but can't afford the expensive hearing aids available.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) have taken the matter into their own hands and have developed a hearing aid device that costs as low as $1 and is open-sourced for anyone to build themselves.
The device, known as LoCHAid, is easily manufactured and can be repaired quickly.
The project's details were published in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday.
Affordable and DIY device
One of the downsides to growing old is a natural loss of hearing. Sounds become more muffled, with high pitched ones almost disappearing entirely, yet background noises such as traffic and construction become a disturbance.
This is when hearing aids come in handy, but in many countries, these are simply not affordable for most people. This can alienate some elderly, as well as increase cognitive decline.
M. Saad Bhamla, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech, decided to find a way to create an easily-developed, easily-built, and affordable option: the LoCHAid.
"The challenge we set for ourselves was to build a minimalist hearing aid, determine how good it would be, and ask how useful it would be to the millions of people who could use it," explained Bhamla.
The team chose to focus just on age-related hearing loss, as this simplified its design by narrowing the range of sound frequency amplification. LoCHAid can't do everything the more expensive hearing aids offer, but it will still hopefully significantly alter the lives of many older people.
Vinaya Manchaiah, lead author of the study, said "When we talk about hearing aids, even the lowest of technology is quite high in price for people in many parts of the world."
"We may not need to have the best technology or the best device in order to provide value and a good experience in hearing," he continued.
The electronic parts of LoCHAid cost under $1 when bought in bulk, without counting in assembly and distribution costs. The prototype uses a 3D printed case and runs on regular AA or lithium ion coin-cell batteries. Given its slightly larger size — it's worn like a necklace — it's easy enough to put together by almost anyone. LoCHAid can last for up to a year and a half.
"We have shown that it is possible to build a hearing aid for less than the price of a cup of coffee," Bhamla said. "This is a first step, a platform technology, and we’ve shown that low cost doesn’t have to mean low quality."
Bhamla and the team hope to sell the device over the counter or online, so that it's easily accessible for people to buy and use.
The team is now working on a smaller device, which would bring the cost up to $7 if bought in bulk, it'll be easier to wear but may require a more high-tech assembly system.
Take a look at how you can put together your very own LoCHAid hearing device below, it'll only take 25 minutes of your time: