Following the rise of mass personalisation that’s brought us tools such as Pandora and Netflix, a Brisbane startup is looking to revolutionise music delivery with technology that “listens to users” .
A team of medical doctors and engineers aiming to personalise sound, Audeara has created headphones that, with a simple app, take users through an audiometric hearing test. The technology, designed by Dr Chris Jeffery, Dr James Fielding and Mr Alex Afflick, calculates user’s hearing needs based on their responses and adjusts the music in near-real time.
“We ask [the app] to output a signal and then we test if you can hear it,” Audeara’s Head of Corporate and Marketing Dr Fielding said. “So when it’s outputting that signal as music it’s making the adjustment necessary.”
Origins in Medicine
Audeara founder and robotics engineer Dr Jeffery found inspiration for the technology during his work as an Ear, Nose and Throat outpatients surgeon at Ipswich Hospital.
He remembers a day when his first five patients had to be delayed from definitive management, as they couldn’t provide the audiograms required for treatment. The costs of travelling to hospital for a 30 or 60 minute test, of hearing tests, and hearing aids, can be expensive.
“This got me thinking how much of a shame it is that we have such poor access to audiology services,” Dr Fielding said. “When it costs around $200 to go to the audiologist and do the whole thing, or maybe drive 10 hours to the nearest hospital for a test… people just don’t do it.”
Before pivoting to headphones, he had aimed to create new medical grade technology that would make audiometric testing more affordable and accessible. This would have been aimed at people working in environments that regularly reach above 80dB (decibels), who should have their hearing tested on a regular basis; the higher the noise level, the more frequently the testing should be done.
“You can send it to the work site every couple of months, the employer can say: ‘Hey guys, pop into the shed and let’s make sure you haven’t had any hearing changes on site in the last few months’.”
Initial funding for Audeara came from ilab‘s Germinate program, when the team successfully competed for a place in the Summer 2014 program. The team realised early in the program that their technology would require funding extensive medical trials, and they instead made the pivot to commercial headphones.
They were provided with $20,000 seed funding, and spent three months building a business plan and designing their audiometric headphone technology.
“What was very impressive about the Audeara team was their ability to maintain a curiosity, and more than that an energy, to dedicate to ingenuity and entrepreneurship while balancing their medical careers,” ilab diector Bernie Woodcroft said.
David Trimboli, lead investor at Seefeld Investments, has also invested in the startup . He believes supporting innovation in Australia is required to reduce the amount of technology imported from overseas, specifically Silicon Valley.
Clear Sound for Everybody
The team are dedicated to following two paths: medical and commercial.
They have a second team working on perfecting the medical device and technology at the trio’s business venture, Robotics Engineering Research (RER) Labs. The original team are supporting the medical device, but focusing their knowledge of audiology, robotics and software engineering into the production of commercial headphones too.
The Audeara app allows users to choose the level of detail for their hearing test, from a 30 second quick test to a full 30 minute test producing a 500 point mathematical model of their hearing capability. The headphones will be able to store multiple hearing profiles, allowing users to have particular settings for home, commutes, work, and more.
“Every noise in the street you walk down has, somehow, changed your hearing,” Dr Fielding said. “This picks it up and gives you the best sound you’ve heard in your life. When you feel that massive difference, it’s clear as day that it’s better.”
While Audeara headphones are designed to be particularly useful for people with loss of hearing through damage, disease or age, Dr Fielding emphasises that they are still meant for public use.
“Everyone can benefit from them. Benefiting people with trauma or disease is our passion for what we’re doing, but we’ve still made headphones which allow you to hear music as it was supposed to be heard.”
Music how it was created to be heard
Audeara aims to create music as the artist intended it to be heard, and, due to the manufacturing of their speakers, every make of headphones has it’s own unique sound. Some may be bass heavy, others may put more emphasis on the mid-range.
“Every single speaker has it’s own flavour, but we let the artist choose,” Dr Fielding said. “That guy that’s sitting and mastering it for two months and giving you what he thinks is ideal… We make it sharper and clearer according to the listener’s needs.”
By Christmas, Audeara will begin a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise the funds they need to reach the final stages of development, and they expect to begin shipping out these unique headphones to consumers in 2017.