Fitness wearables have been a thing for a while now, monitoring heartbeat, steps, and calories burned. And earbuds have come a long way, providing excellent sound, reasonable battery life, and Bluetooth capability.
But now the two are coming together to become “hearables,” smart headphones that monitor your heartbeat, detect when you’re stressed, and track your brain waves. After all, the ear is a great place to track steps, heart rate, falls, and brain waves that can indicate focus, as well as detect stress via galvanic skin response sensors.
According to Juniper Research, $20 billion is forecast to be spent annually on wearable healthcare devices by 2023. With the addition of assistive hearables, this sector could generate revenues of over $40 billion. Juniper forecasts that 5 million individuals will be remotely monitored by healthcare providers by 2023
Offering Hearables & Overcoming Obstacles
Apple’s next generation of AirPods is expected to include health-monitoring sensors, and existing hearing aid companies are preparing for the convergence between hearing aids, personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), and biomonitoring applications.
In 2014, Starkey Hearing Technologies introduced a hearing aid compatible with iPhones, so that a related app can provide relevant data, such as dementia or cognitive decline, that may be useful to the wearer. This year, the company announced a new hearing aid that improves hearing and also has an activity tracker, a heartbeat monitor, heart-rate variability monitoring, and fall detection.
According to Dave Fabry, chief innovation officer at Starkey Hearing Technologies, the current generation of hearing aid wearers is accustomed to being able to customize settings using apps and to recharge a device rather than replace batteries. Since hearing aid wearers use their devices all the time, a single charge needs to last all day. Starkey is already experimenting with a combination of AI sensors that detect the noise in the environment and power down when there’s nothing to hear.
In addition to battery power, data privacy and consent are issues associated with hearables. Improving healthcare systems, such as using AI-enabled software analytics, is contingent on patient data being anonymized. Some insurance providers are changing the dynamics, requiring a data feed from the policyholder’s device in exchange for coverage.
Michael Larner, Juniper research author, says, “It is vital that patients are made aware of how their personal data will be used. If not, making wearables ‘must have’ to provide personalized care or receive medical insurance risks a backlash from patients and heightened regulatory scrutiny; stalling the effectiveness of remote monitoring.”
Thanks to the IoT
Wearables and hearables work thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), which has the potential to completely transform healthcare and other industries. IEEE’s Guide to the Internet of Things explores healthcare and other industries. In this eight-course program, participants learn about the IoT, its applications, challenges, and future opportunities. This program is designed for professionals working in engineering, IT, computer science, and related fields across all industries. Connect with an IEEE Content Specialist to receive a custom quote for your organization today.
Higginbotham, Stacey. (21 Mar 2019). Your Earbuds Will Become Your Most Powerful Health Monitor. IEEE Spectrum.
(14 Jan 2019). Healthcare Spend in Wearables to Reach $60 Billion by 2023, as Monitoring Devices & Hearables Become ‘Must Haves’ in Delivering Care. Juniper Research.