Meet Tympan, The Open Hardware Hearing Aid

If you’re the kind of person who’s serious about using open source software and hardware, relying on a medical device like a pacemaker or an insulin pump can be a particular insult. You wouldn’t trust the technology with your email, and yet you’re forced to put your life into the hands of a device you can’t examine yourself. Unfortunately we don’t (yet) have any news to report on open source pacemakers, but at least now there’s an open software and hardware hearing aid for those who need it.

The Tympan project aims to develop a fully open source hearing aid that you can not only build yourself, but expand and modify to fit your exact specifications. Ever wanted to write code for your hearing aid with the Arduino IDE? No problem. You want Bluetooth, I2C, and SPI? You got it. In truth we’re not sure what this kind of technology makes possible just yet, but the point is that now those who want to hack their hearing aids have a choice in the matter. We have no doubt the community will come up with incredible applications that we can’t even begin to imagine.

But these open hearing aids aren’t just hackable, they’re affordable. Traditional hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars, but you can buy the Tympan right now for $250. You don’t even need to check with your health insurance first. Such a huge reduction in price means there’s a market for these outside the hardware hacking crowd, and yet another example of how open source can put cutting edge technology into the hands of those who would otherwise have to go without.

The latest version of the Tympan hardware, revision D, is powered by the Teensy 3.6 and features a Sierra Wireless BC127 Bluetooth radio, dual MEMS microphones, and even a microSD slot for recording audio or logging data. It might be a bit bigger than the traditional hearing aids you’re used to seeing, but with an external microphone and headphone setup, the wearer could simply keep it in their pocket.

We’ve seen DIY hearing aids before, but unless you’re willing to carry a breadboard around with you, they’ve generally been limited to proof of concept sort of builds. We’re glad to see a mature project like Tympan join the growing movement for open source medical hardware; it’s a another big step forward towards democratizing these critical pieces of technology.

I Hear You Offer WiFi

We are swimming in radio transmissions from all around, and if you live above the ground floor, they are coming at you from below as well. Humans do not have a sensory organ for recognizing radio signals, but we have lots of hardware which can make sense of it. The chances are good that you are looking at one such device right now. [Frank Swain] has leaped from merely accepting the omnipresent signals from WiFi routers and portable devices to listening in on them. The audio signals are mere soundwaves, so he is not listening to every tweet and email password, merely a representation of the data’s presence. There is a sample below the break, and it sounds like a Geiger counter playing PIN•BOT.

We experience only the most minuscule sliver of information coming at us at any given moment. Machines to hack that gap are not had to find on these pages so [Frank] is in good company. Magnetosensory is a popular choice for people with a poor sense of direction. Echolocation is perfect for fans of Daredevil. Delivering new sensations could be easier than ever with high-resolution tactile displays. Detect some rather intimate data with ‘SHE BON.’

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Vibhear

Hearing impairment, either partial or total, is a serious problem afflicting a large number of people. Almost 5% of the global population has some form of hearing disorder. For those affected by this disability from birth, it further impacts the development of language and speech abilities. In recent years, cochlear implants are increasingly being used to address this problem. These implants consist of two parts – the receiver and electrode array are implanted under the skin near the ear (with the electrode array terminating inside the Cochlea), while the microphone, electronics, transmitter and power source are attached on the outside. Often, the external unit has to be removed – for example, when the person needs to sleep. This is particularly so in the case of young children. The external unit is fairly large compared to their head and causes discomfort during sleep. And parents are worried that the expensive device could get damaged when the child is sleeping. This leads to the alarming situation where the child is asleep and has no audio sensory inputs being received from the surroundings. Not only can they not hear morning alarms, but also cannot react when there is an emergency situation such as a smoke alarm going off.

[Srdjan Pavlovic] came across this problem first hand when he visited his friend and learned about their six-year-old son with hearing loss since birth. The parents said their child will not be disturbed by loud noises at night since the external unit of his cochlear implant is removed each night. [Srdjan] then started work on building the Vibhear – an assistive hearing device to be used when the main hearing aid is removed or not working. It is a low-cost arm-band that provides a vibratory signal in response to high ambient noises.

The main components are a microphone, amplifier, microcontroller and vibration motor powered by a LiPo battery through a boost converter/charger. An RTC module allows setting up daily wake up alarms. It’s currently prototyped around the Arduino, but the next iteration will use a specialized DSP which can be programmed to perform signal processing operations on input sound. This will allow identification of specific sounds such as car horns, barking dogs, smoke alarms or emergency sirens.

[Srdjan] is in the process of choosing components for his next iteration, so if you have any recommendations to help him choose the microcontroller, power supply controller or other parts, do let him know via comments below.

Simple Hearing Amplifier

Hearing aids are probably more high-tech than you think. They are tiny. They have to go through a lot of trouble to prevent feedback. They need a long battery life. The good ones match their amplification to the inverse of your hearing loss (amplifying only the bands where you don’t hear as well).

[NotionSunday] put together a hearing amplifier project that probably doesn’t hit many of those design criteria. However, thanks to a 3D printed case, it looks pretty good. The device uses a dual opamp to boost the output from two microphones and feeds it to a conventional headphone.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Shakelet

A person who is deaf can’t hear sound, but that doesn’t mean they can’t feel vibrations. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Alex Hunt] is developing the Shakelet, a vibrating wristband for that notifies hearing impaired people about telephones, doorbells, and other sound alerts.

To tackle the difficulty of discriminating between the different sounds from different sources, [Alex’s] wants to attach little sound sensors directly to the sound emitting devices. The sensors wirelessly communicate with the wristband. If the wristband receives a trigger signal from one of the sensors, it alerts the wearer by vibrating. It also shows which device triggered the alert by flashing an RGB LED in a certain color. A first breadboard prototype of his idea confirmed the feasibility of the concept.

After solving a few minor problems with the sensitivity of the sensors, [Alex] now has a working prototype. The wristband features a pager motor and is controlled by an ATMEGA168. Two NRF24L01+ 2.4 GHz wireless transceiver modules take care of the communication. The sound sensors run on the smaller ATTiny85 and use a piezo disc as microphone. Check out the video below, where Alex demonstrates his build:

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Hacking Hearing with a Bone Conduction Bluetooth Speaker

When a hacker finds himself with a metal disc and magnet surgically implanted in his skull, chances are pretty good that something interesting will come from it. [Eric Cherry]’s implant, designed to anchor a bone-conduction hear aid, turned out to be a great place to mount a low-cost Bluetooth speaker for his phone – at least when he’s not storing paperclips behind his ear.

With single-sided deafness, [Eric]’s implant allows him to attach his bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA), which actually uses the skull itself as a resonator to bypass the outer ear canal and the bones of the middle ear and send vibrations directly to the cochlea. As you can imagine, a BAHA device is a pretty pricey bit of gear, and being held on by just a magnet can be tense in some situations. [Eric] decided to hack a tiny Bluetooth speaker to attach to his implant and see if it would work with his phone. A quick teardown and replacement of the stock speaker with a bone-conduction transducer from Adafruit took care of the electronics, which were installed in a 3D printed enclosure compatible with the implant. After pairing with his phone he found that sound quality was more than good enough to enjoy music without risking his implant. And all for only $22 out-of-pocket. While only a Bluetooth speaker in its current form, we can see how the microphone in the speakerphone might be used to build a complete hearing aid on the cheap.

We think this is a great hack that really opens up some possibilities for the hearing impaired. Of course it’s not suitable for all types of hearing loss; for more traditional hearing aid users, this Bluetooth-enabled adapter might be a better choice for listening to music.

Bluetooth Headphones For Hearing Aids

Cyborgs walk among us, but for the time being, it’s really only people with glasses, contact lenses, the occasional hearing aid and the infrequent prosthesis. As with all technology, these devices can be expanded into something they were not originally designed to do – in [Gertlex]’ case, the superpower of listening to music through his hearing aids. he gets a few strange looks from wearing a Bluetooth headset around his neck, but the power to turn his hearing aids ito what are effectively in-ear monitors is a great application of modified electronics.

[Gertlex] began with a Bluetooth headset, his hearing aid, a few resistors, some wire, a 3.5mm audio connector, and an absurdly expensive DAI cable. The DAI cable – Direct Audio Input – is a pseudo-standardized feature on many hearing aids. as its name implies, it allows the wearer of a hearing aid to pipe audio directly into their ear.

By cutting up one of these $50+ DAI cables, [Gertlex] was able to construct a DAI to 3.5mm adapter cable. From there, it was simply a matter of installing a 3.5mm socket on a Bluetooth headset.

It’s a brilliant build, with the most expensive component being the DAI connector itself. [Gertlex] has a few ideas for making these connectors himself – they’re really only three pins and some plastic – and we’re hoping he gets around to that soon.