The hearing aid market in the U.S. is in the midst of a significant shift. In late 2022, the FDA created a new over-the-counter category of devices. The U.S. government's goal with the new category was to drive innovation and competition. So far, the move has brought new audio brands like Jabra, Bose, Sony, and Sennheiser into the mix. That's significant progress for consumers, but most of the new products have been derivative of products that existed before 2022. No true game-changers.
That might be about to change.
The largest eyewear maker in the world, EssilorLuxottica, has announced that they are working on a category-shifting technology that blends eyeglasses with hearing aids. The product likely won't be out until next year but people with hearing loss are already getting excited.
Here's what we know so far. 👇
Hearing aids in glasses aren't a new idea.
Eyeglasses with built-in hearing aids are not a new idea. The concept was mainstream in the 70's and 80's but ran into issues of reliability, complex repairs, and sluggish overall adoption. To be fair, 40 years is an eternity in the world of technology.
EssilorLuxotica's ambitions to blend sight and sound revolve around acquiring an Israeli startup called Nuance Hearing. Nuance started in 2015 when two brothers set out to solve the age-old "cocktail party problem". They developed impressive beam-forming technology that isolates audio in front of the listener while reducing background noise. Nuance did not have a widely available product, but Essilor Luxottica saw an opportunity to co-create one.
In July 2023, EssilorLuxottica bought the company and quickly unveiled a master plan to bring eyeglasses and hearing aids into one product.
While the idea of a hearing aid and glasses duo is big news for the hearing health community, it's part of the broader smart glasses tech trend. Bose, Snapchat, and Ray Ban (owned by EssilorLuxottica) all have their own smart glasses with built-in speakers and cameras.
It's a logical step to consider how this emerging tech could solve a massive hearing problem for hundreds of millions around the world.
What we know (and don't know) about design.
From what we know, the new glasses are still in the prototype phase. Official images have not been publicized, but some industry experts like Dr. Cliff Olson have shared photos of the prototype. EssilorLuxottica will likely release a range of styles to keep with its fashion-first reputation.
So, how will these glasses work?
We might assume that EssilorLuxottica will take design learnings from another in-house brand, Ray-Ban. Ray-Ban Stories launched in late 2021 with built-in cameras, microphones, and a speaker that sits above the ear. The open-ear speaker plays audio from the arm of the glasses in the direction of your ear canal (no wires or earbuds).
The promise of this new product is in the front-facing microphone array that will sense where you are looking and isolate that sound. The speakers on the arm of the device will then play cleaned-up audio in real-time to enhance understanding.
Who will hearing aid glasses be for?
Hearing aid glasses will probably be best for people with mild-moderate hearing loss who specifically struggle in background noise environments. It's hard to imagine that these glasses will have fine-tuned frequency management due to the open ear design so they'll likely isolate voices and pipe those in the direction of your ear.
The good news is that for folks with mild-moderate hearing loss, their ear can stay open, and overall sound might feel more natural and require less adjustment.
Will hearing aid glasses actually work this time?
Hearing aid glasses have a clunky past, but if EssilorLuxottica can keep the ear canal open and figure out the right mix of battery life and processing power, this product could be very exciting for anyone with mild-moderate hearing loss.
One important challenge could be for anyone who wears multiple glasses (sunglasses, bifocals, etc.). Maybe EssilorLuxottica has some creative engineering up its sleeve to solve this problem.
If these glasses do work, expect a stampede of new products from hearing health leaders like Sonova, GN and WS Audiology.
When will the new hearing aid glasses be available?
Rumors are that EssilorLuxottica could announce a product by th end of 2024. Early versions might take a year or two to refine and improve before they see mass-market adoption.
Of course, we'll keep this guide updated as we learn more in the coming year.