Digital Playground: Consumer Electronics Show
The 50th Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held in Las Vegas on January 5–8, 2017. As usual, it was a veritable digital playground for technophiles. In addition to the usual array of connected devices, this year was arguably the embodiment of “smart” devices gone wild, including smart showers, hairbrushes, and mattresses (begging the question “why?”). In recent years, the second acronym for CES has been the “Car Excitement Show,” particularly for electric and autonomous vehicles, and this year was no exception, with concepts from Faraday, BMW, Toyota, and VW attracting the most attention.
There were, of course, numerous ear-relevant themes to this year’s CES, with increasing number of traditional hearing aid manufacturers present (Signia, Oticon, ReSound, and Starkey), to one degree or another, explaining how hearing aids continue to move from stand-alone devices designed to compensate for hearing loss, to high-tech “connectivity” devices. Also, there were also a wide array of air-conduction and bone-conduction “hearable” and personal sound amplification product (PSAP) devices on display.
Former and current Academy Presidents Drs. Barry Freeman and Ian Windmill were among the nearly 180,000 who attended to view the 2.5 million square feet of exhibit space, and it was obvious that 2017 is emerging as “the year of the ear,” with all manner of devices that increasingly talk or listen to communicate with humans. Many hearables with biometric sensors were on display, reminding attendees that the ear is valuable real estate for monitoring heart rate, body temperature, pulse oximetry, movement (including fall prevention), and a host of other functions.
The “smart” home and workplace of the future suggested that the transition to 2.4 GHz wireless in the hearing aid industry will enable direct connectivity between hearing aids and TVs, public address systems and movie theaters, and classroom amplification systems in the not-too-distant-future. 3D scanners and printers continue to become more and more sophisticated and less expensive; one offering promised 100-micron resolution with 24-minute printing times for less than $2,000, suggesting that in-office shell/mold printers may become possible in the future.
The possibilities for improving accessibility and affordability were everywhere, and a bit overwhelming. Furthermore, the emphasis on technology as the solution serves as an important reminder to audiologists that they continue to emphasize that while PSAP and over-the-counter (OTC) devices may expand the market, “do-it-yourself” is not for everyone. While the Baby Boom generation is a significant force behind the “health-care consumerism” movement, many will still prefer to work with an audiologist to optimize outcomes.
CES 2017 was an important reminder that the “brave new world” is approaching and that it provides many threats and opportunities for audiology in the future. Technology alone will not provide a better hearing, but it has the potential to expand the market and raise awareness for the importance of hearing as a significant health condition.