A HiBAN (hearing instrument body area network) integrates a variety of accessories and two hearing instruments to form a wireless network. This article discusses how Phonak’s DirectTouch technology can be used in controlling directionality and telephone capabilities within hearing aids.
|This article was submitted to HR by Anna Biggins, audiology manager at Phonak AG, in Stafa, Switzerland. Correspondence can be addressed to HR or Anna Biggins at .|
The integration of wireless communication applications combined with the flexibility and computational power of new chip designs has created a huge opportunity in terms of the solutions that can now be offered to hearing-impaired people. They can now truly have hearing systems, not just hearing instruments.
The CORE platform is the chip at the center of Phonak’s latest generation of hearing systems that has allowed substantial progress to be made in wireless hearing aid communication technology. A HiBAN (hearing instrument body area network) integrates a variety of accessories and two hearing instruments to form a wireless network.
This wireless network has made it possible to introduce new applications and solutions for customers’ listening needs, the first of which were introduced with Exélia and Naída. Since then, Phonak has continued to develop the HiBAN to offer more benefits to wearers of hearing instruments.
Utilizing Wireless Technology
One of the main features that Phonak introduced with Exélia is ZoomControl.1 The speed and capacity of CORE wireless technology allow real-time streaming of the full audio signal between hearing instruments. In addition to directional microphone beamforming to the front and back, ZoomControl accesses this real-audio streaming capability to enable the end user to focus to the right and left side.
When an end user selects focus direction right or left, the signal of the hearing instrument on the chosen side is transferred to the opposite hearing instrument. The microphones of the hearing instrument on the non-focus side—receiving the streamed data—are attenuated. This avoids head-shadow and emphasizes the better signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) signal of the chosen hearing aid.
|FIGURE 1. ZoomControl. When “Focus direction left” is selected, the left ear aid is amplified and the signal transmitted to the right aid, while the right ear is attenuated by 20 dB.|
|FIGURE 2. One of the five ZoomControl programs is now in use.|
Originally, with Exélia, ZoomControl could be accessed only via the myPilot remote control. The new hearing instruments, Exélia Art and Naída IX, have been expanded to offer the benefits of wireless streaming and binaural features. One example of this is that focus direction can now be selected without the need of a remote control.
Additional benefits can be generated by utilizing the signal streaming from one side to the other for telephone conversations. Using the telephone for hearing instrument wearers has always provided challenges, and market research has shown that this is one of the listening situations where end users express most dissatisfaction.2
The impact from the introduction of digital technology in hearing instruments when used in telephone listening situations has been shown to increase satisfaction in this group by between 10% and 14%. Further improvement is still possible thanks to CORE wireless technology. The HiBAN allows real-time streaming between hearing instruments that, when applied to the new DuoPhone feature, enables hearing instrument wearers to hear the phone call in both ears while simultaneously reducing background noise levels. DuoPhone is available as a feature in any telephone program—for both acoustic and telecoil input. It is “on” by default for a program with acoustic input and “off” by default for T/MT input for binaural Exélia Art and Naída IX instrument fittings.
The remainder of this article will discuss the expansion and integration of this technology within Phonak hearing instruments, and demonstrate the ease of customizing the new program features and using the fitting software.
Directional Streaming Control
DirectTouch. DirectTouch is a feature that defines the directional and streaming behavior of a hearing aid via a tactronic switch. When DirectTouch is activated within a program, the signal from that hearing instrument is streamed to the other instrument; for example, when the left tactronic switch is pressed, the signal from the left instrument is streamed to the right instrument.
Currently, DirectTouch is available for ZoomControl programs and for the DuoPhone feature of any manual phone program. It can be selected and adjusted via the Phonak hearing instrument fitting software (iPFG 2.4 success ware).
|FIGURE 3. Program options showing the setup for a manual ZoomControl program with the focus to the back.|
|FIGURE 4. One manual telephone program occupying programming slot.|
|FIGURE 5. Program options screen when automatic (EasyPhone) program has been deleted.|
ZoomControl with DirectTouch. When clients want the option of selecting different focus directions, the dispensing professional needs to establish if they want just one additional focus direction (eg, focus right only) or if they would like up to four focus directions (right, left, front, and back). If a client wants right and left focus directions, ZoomControl with DirectTouch can be the selected program (Figure 2). The main advantage to this is that only one program slot is used but two directions are available.
Within the normal program toggle sequence, when the ZoomControl program is activated on the right hearing instrument, the system focuses to the right. To select left-focus, the user scrolls through the program sequence until he/she returns to the ZoomControl program, selecting it via the left hearing instrument. In other words, the right button activates “zoom right” and the left button activates “zoom left,” but always within the structure of the normal program toggle sequence.
In the “program options” screen for a ZoomControl program with DirectTouch, a default direction can also be selected. This default direction is selected if the program is accessed via remote control instead of via the tactronic switch. Although it may not be a common-use case, the advantage here is that, if the client has a remote control, he/she can have the choice of three focus directions using only one program slot.3
Manual ZoomControl programs without DirectTouch can also be selected. It is important to remember that DirectTouch is “on” by default, so it must be deactivated in the “program options” screen. When DirectTouch is deactivated, the default direction will always be selected when this program is accessed via tactronic switch or remote control.
Phone Streaming Control
In a manual (not EasyPhone) phone program with DuoPhone active, DirectTouch is also available as a feature modifier (Figures 4 and 5). If DirectTouch is switched “on,” it means that the end user activates the telephone program via the right instrument when he/she wants to hold the phone to the right ear. The signal from the right instrument is then transferred in real time to the left instrument. Conversely, the wearer activates the telephone program via the left instrument when holding the phone to the left ear, causing the signal from the left instrument to be transferred to the right instrument. The microphone attenuation level of the instrument receiving the signal can be adjusted by the clinician in iPFG.
The dispensing professional can choose to turn DirectTouch on or off for any manual phone program with DuoPhone active. A DuoPhone default direction should also be set, and if DirectTouch is active, this default direction will be selected only when the manual phone program is accessed via remote control. When DirectTouch is deactivated, the default direction will always be selected when this program is accessed, via tactronic switch or remote control.
HiBAN technology offers innovative solutions that help clinicians enhance the benefit to wearers. The ongoing development of wireless technologies—combined with the more we learn about the listening needs people face in their daily auditory lives—provides an exceptional opportunity to increase hearing instrument end-user benefits.
Citation for this article:
Biggins A. Benefits of wireless technology. Hearing Review. 2009;16(11):40-43.
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- Kochkin S. MarkeTrak VII: Consumer satisfaction in the digital age. Hear Jour. 2005;58:30-42.
- Richars V, Launer S, Moore BCJM. Potential benefit of across aid communication for bilaterally aided people: listening in a car. Int J Audiol. 2006;45:182-189.