Glittering like a faceted jewel, this invaluable little piece of tech looks more like a fancy wireless earbud than a medical device. Many people who could benefit from wearing hearing aids choose not to because of the social stigma, not to mention the prohibitively high cost. The “Olive” device by Korean-based company Olive Union gets around both of those obstacles with fashionable looks and a surprisingly affordable price tag thanks to crowdfunding, recent advances in compact sound architecture, and Bluetooth technology.
Conventional hearing aids can cost upwards of $4,000 to cover research and development, overhead, advertising, training costs, and employee salaries. The Olive is getting around those costs by keeping margins as low as possible and outsourcing R&D to crowdfunders. This new generation hearing aid raised over 1600% of its initial funding goal on IndieGoGo, and over 3,600 backers contributed at least $100 each to be guinea pigs for the refinement of the device.
Campaign backers will get the final version of the Olive hearing aid hardware along with a beta test version of the software in July. They will provide the company with valuable feedback that will help them produce a final version for sale to the general public when it’s launched in December.
Clearly, people are excited about the product, and it’s not hard to see why. Pop it into your ear like a fashionable accessory and pair it with a smartphone app available on Android and iOS to carry out hearing tests and configure your personal hearing profile based on your preferences and various environments. Built-in “smart sound technology” reduces noise to boost clarity. The earpiece itself is lightweight and comes with silicone tips in a variety of sizes and an 8-hour lithium ion polymer battery that functions like a portable charging case which can easily be slipped into your pocket. The charging case stores enough power for two full charges and can be juiced back up with a USB cable.
“Hearing aids are complex and sophisticated products, and the Olive is no different,” say the creators. “Creating the Olive requires deep scientific knowledge and the ability to apply lab-focused research into commercially viable products. That’s why we have experienced PhD’s working on this project to complement our ability to bring the best product to market. The Olive is redefining the limits of hearing aids. We’ve chosen a comprehensive combination of hardware components and software features for our smart sound algorithm and Bluetooth technology.”
“On the mechanical side, we carefully selected materials and engineered complex internal air spaces to allow for maximum sound reduction, targeted signal processing, and deep bass. We ran tests in simulation on our boards and on our early models to ensure the highest hearing aid quality performance.”
Billed as a single earpiece for people with moderate hearing loss, the Olive is not meant for the severely hearing impaired. But for people who struggle to hear in many scenarios, especially social situations with a lot of background noise, this device could be life-changing. If you’re interested in being part of the beta testing, pre-orders are still available on the IndieGoGo site.