I was recently contacted by students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to learn more about my experiences living with hearing loss. Specifically they were interested in my thoughts on moderating the volume of my voice. They had seen a blog post I had written about the difficulty people with hearing loss often have knowing if they are speaking at the right volume in different settings. You can read that post here.
The students had a friend with hearing loss, who had explained to them the difficulty he had matching his voice to the ambient environment during interviews and other important academic and professional meetings. He said he was often intimidated to go to an interview for fear of embarrassing himself by speaking too loudly or too softly. This inspired the students to design a product to solve his problem.
The potential product is a small wearable device that would take in ambient noise and a user’s speaking volume, and discreetly notify the user if they are speaking too loudly or too softly for the noise in the room. The student team hoped this would “empower those who are hard of hearing with the ability to better regulate speaking volume.”
I spoke with the students on the phone a few times to answer their questions. They wanted to know:
How much would I pay for a device like this?
Would I want the device to be a standalone product or something accessed via an app through a watch or other wearable?
When did I think I would use it most?
Would I wear it all the time or just sometimes? Why?
How did I want to be notified to adjust the volume of my voice — visually or through vibrations?
I was impressed with the depth of their understanding of the issue and their desire to create something affordable and useful.
The project culminated in a professional presentation in front of a large crowd where the team debuted and demonstrated their prototype product. You can watch the video of their presentation here. After following the link, click on “Watch Again” and then move the cursor to 1:51:40 — about halfway through the video. The product brochure is here.
The product received positive feedback from professors and others in the audience, but the group is not yet certain if they will take it beyond the prototype phase. Either way, it is wonderful to see the next generation of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs working on developing products for the hearing loss market. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Readers, what hearing loss related devices would you like to see on the market?