Starkey Laboratories Inc joins forces with colleagues within the hearing industry to develop the Lexis FM system.

Jessica Kelley, worldwide marketing manager, Starkey Laboratories Inc

Working together with Audibel, Bernafon, MicroTech, NUEAR, Omni, Oticon, Phonic Ear, and Qualitone, Starkey Laboratories Inc, Eden Prairie, Minn, developed the Lexis System, a wireless FM system designed to help hearing-impaired individuals make sense of and participate in complex noise environments. The system’s name, Lexis—from the Greek word for speech—is indicative of the device’s goal to improve the understanding of oral communication. Building on Starkey’s and its partners’ long work in the area of wireless communication products, the Lexis was developed in Denmark, Minnesota, and California by the companies’ combined research staffs. Each company will market the device under the Lexis brand name, attaching their own company name to the product.

Hearing Products Report recently spoke with Jessica Kelley, worldwide marketing manager for Starkey Laboratories Inc, about the Lexis and the advantages and challenges of working with the company’s competitors in developing the new technology.

qa02.jpg (6239 bytes) HPR: What was the impetus for the Lexis System, what need does it fulfill that a hearing instrument alone does not?

Jessica Kelley: Even with the best hearing instruments, many hearing-impaired users experience difficulty hearing and understanding speech in certain situations. Paired with today’s advanced digital BTE hearing instruments, Lexis helps overcome listening obstacles such as noise, distance, and reverberation and enables the wearer to better participate in challenging communication environments.

HPR: Broadly, how does Lexis work? How is this an advantage to the hearing aid user?

Kelley: Lexis is a step ahead of traditional body-worn FM technologies, which have mainly been used in the educational environment. It is an attractive, wireless, ergonomic, and compact system. The Lexis system consists of a wireless beam-forming microphone array and a small receiver that attaches to a BTE hearing aid. Lexis has many features that make it appropriate for adults and children, at home, at school, at work, and at social events. For example, the superb directionality of the handheld microphone combines 8.5 dB AI-DI, plus advanced digital signal processing, to help enhance speech understanding in noise. In addition, we’ve produced a very quiet, simple, and flexible receiver design that is easy to fit using standard protocols. When transmitting, the user can be up to 15 feet away. With the external antenna patched in, you can extend the range to 100 feet.

HPR: What is the patient profile for the Lexis?

Kelley: The patient and market opportunities are endless because the Lexis system can be used in any situation complicated by noise or distance. Restaurants, automobiles, classrooms, business meetings, social gatherings, theaters, places of worship, and home entertainment are all environments where Lexis can benefit the end user.

HPR: Why did Starkey enter into partnership with its competitors to develop and market the Lexis?

Kelley: We have partnered together to develop industry reaching standards and products for hearing-impaired users that can be used in any environment in which wireless transmission is available. The Lexis system is the first of many product platforms we will develop and launch together.

HPR: What were the advantages of working with other companies on developing the Lexis?

Kelley: It has been enormously rewarding to see nine major hearing health care companies collaborate on a wireless product for the hearing impaired. Each has willingly opened the doors, and pooled resources and knowledge to launch the best possible product. From an investment standpoint, we have leveraged our product development resources by nine times. An example of leveraging investment began when we combined our market research results. We more clearly defined the end users’ needs, which in turn enabled the engineering team to quickly develop prototypes to the required product specifications. Additionally, when one company had a bottleneck in a functional area such as laboratory testing, another stepped in to quickly move the process forward.

qa03.jpg (7709 bytes) HPR: What were the challenges of working with your competitors on a product designed to benefit all of you?

Kelley: Today’s technology, such as web casting and frequent, frequent emailing, allowed us to easily eliminate the issues of distance. Our biggest problem at times was scheduling meetings due to our 15-hour time difference. Usually our challenges involved taking extra time for each company to explain and participate in all development phases. Nonetheless, this allowed us a unique and incredible learning opportunity for all companies. All development costs were divided evenly.

HPR: How did the development process work?

Kelley: Our partnership’s rigorous development process was very similar to Starkey’s in that we all worked closely together through a disciplined and defined set of strategies, steps, and phases. Generally, the overall process included brainstorming, strategy, organization, concept generation, product requirements and development, product and field-testing, beta testing, and marketing strategy implementation for commercialization.

HPR: How is the marketing for the Lexis being handled?

Kelley: All nine companies are jointly marketing the Lexis product worldwide. We have agreed to have our marketing be the same. This includes tradeshows, consumer and trade advertising, promotions, and collateral materials.

HPR: How can Lexis help dispensers’ bottom line?

Kelley: The dispensing benefits are attractive in that the Lexis system is a clip-on and go—it is all preprogrammed. No special equipment is required such as fitting software. So it’s an attractive opportunity for dispensers in that it is also an add-on revenue opportunity. It also can increase patient satisfaction with current BTEs. Pairing the Lexis with BTE instruments means greater independence, mobility, and freedom to participate in situations that otherwise are difficult or frustrating. There is also an added flexibility for customers. For example, if a patient has experience with one of the nine brands, but the dispenser doesn’t carry it, the consumer still receives the same product. It is a win-win situation for all involved.

N. L. Shepherd is a contributing writer for Hearing Products Report.