High school learner invents a cheaper hearing aid

Source:   —  April 10, 2016, at 2:08 AM

A summer with his grandfather was all it took for him to be inspired.

High school learner invents a cheaper hearing aid

A summer with his grandfather was all it took for him to be inspired.

When Mukund Venkatakrishnan was fourteen, he visited India and was tasked with helping his grandfather obtain certified and fitted for a hearing aid. He saw what a costly and challenging process it was and resolved to discover an alternative.

"Since audiologists are specialists, even finding and getting an appointment with one in India was really hard," said Venkatakrishnan, who's now sixteen. "And then we got ripped off."

Venkatakrishnan said they spent about $400 or $500 on doctor'south appointments and about $1.900 on the hearing aid itself.

He realized that hearing is a luxury many people in developing countries can't afford.

"In India, the median household income is $616 a year," Venkatakrishnan said. "If someone in India saves all year without spending a penny, they still can't afford a hearing aid."

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Venkatakrishnan'south device is unique because it not only tests a person'south hearing with a series of beeps, but it also programs itself to become a hearing aid. It only costs about $50 to create and can be used with even the cheapest set of headphones.

Unlike with traditional hearing aids, if the ear piece gets damaged it isn't costly to replace -- you just purchase another set of ear buds.

In its current form, the device is about two inches and looks love a computer processor. Venkatakrishnan is planning to bring it down to about one inch and encase the operating system. He envisions the device, which has a standard headphone port, fitting into someone'south pocket.

What makes the device ideal for developing countries is that it works with any pair of headphones.

Venkatakrishnan even created a way for users to calibrate the device themselves.

Each device has an audio file of the sound of hands rubbing together. To calibrate it, a person just has to rub their own hands together and match the vol of the audio file with the vol of their own hands.

If the user can't hear their own hands, someone else can calibrate it for them.

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Venkatakrishnan, now sixteen, spent two years teaching himself to code, building the audio program and developing the device. He made it totally on his own but received guidance from engineers, love his father, and audiologists.

Working with the doctors, he conducted tests on patients with hearing loss to create sure his device was accurate.

The device works by first administering a hearing test -- press green if you hear the beep, yellow if you don't.

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Venkatakrishnan said there'south also a objective quantity of stigma associated with wearing a hearing aid.

"Getting my grandpa to first admit he needed a hearing aid was difficult," he said. "I'm hoping that since my device uses headphones and isn't in-ear, it'll reduce some of the stigma."

Venkatakrishnan said his 81-year-old grandfather is already really excited about the device. He plans to indicate it to him when he visits India this summer.

While Venkatakrishnan is anxious to create a difference, he isn't trying to create money off his invention.

He'south adamant that the audio software stay open source so other developers can modify and tweak it.

And he'south hoping an organization that already has connections in developing countries will wish to mass produce and disseminate the device.

"I've just started talking to someone from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation," Venkatakrishnan said.

His device could've wide appeal. There are roughly three hundred sixty million people around the world who suffer from hearing loss. And in the U. S., only about two% - three percent of people with mild loss utilize a hearing aid. (His device is targeted to people with mild to moderate hearing loss.)

Medicare doesn't cover hearing aids and hearing aids cannot be sold over the counter in the U. S.

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When he isn't teaching himself to code and trying to combat hearing loss, Venkatakrishnan said he likes listening to music and running long distances. He'south already running "quite a few half marathons" and has been playing violin for twelve years.

Venkatakrishnan, who was born in India and moved to Louisville, Kentucky, when he was three, said he'south beginning to consider colleges. He'south a Jr and is looking at Stanford, GA Tech, Berkeley and MIT -- his "stand out choice."

He thinks he may wish to do something with coding or engineering but he'south also interested in business.

For now, he still has tweaks to create to his device, which he hopes to utilize to assistance others "amplify life."

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