Tech News

This WiFi-equipped smart ear wax remover could literally save your hearing

TLDR: The Spade Smart Ear Wax Remover is a smart and safe way to see and remove wax buildup in your ear canals, now at with an extra Memorial Day Sale savings.

This is going to be…well, a little bit gross — but we’ve gotta talk about earwax. Specifically, your earwax. And even more specifically, how all that earwax you’re currently carrying around might actually be impacting your hearing.

For those who instantly think that’s an impossibility, it’s not. A medical study found accumulated earwax is actively affecting how about 10 percent of people are hearing right now. And earwax accounts for almost 8 million medical removal procedures each year.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. With a tool like the Spade Ear Wax Remover ($80.99 after code CLEAN13 from TNW Deals), you won’t just think you’re doing a good job cleaning out your ears, you’ll see you’re doing a good job.

The biggest problem is that even if you’re using an unsafe instrument like a cotton swab to clear out buildup in your auditory canal, that wiping often doesn’t remove waxy concentrations. It only pushes the wax even deeper into your ear, ultimately leading to impacted hearing. Which makes sense considering you can’t see a thing you’re doing in there.

The Spade tears away the mystery behind this process. At the end of this expertly designed probe is a 3MPX WiFi-connected sensor camera that feeds video of what it sees in your ear to the free Spade app on your phone. 

With that kind of vision, along with the booming 6 inner-mounted LED lights illuminating the way, it’s easy to use the replaceable ear pick attachment to just gently, but almost surgically scoop out and remove even the most stubborn wax deposits. In case you’re worried, the entire tool is also temperature controlled, so it will always remain at room temperature inside your ear, even with the lights on full.

The Spade is stored inside the 3-in-1 charger, dock and storage unit, which can help keep the 350mAh battery in there working for up to 60 days on a single charge.

The Spade Smart Ear Wax Remover is regularly $126, but right now, you can save an extra $13 off the already discounted price as part of the TNW Deals Memorial Day Sale. Just use the code CLEAN13 during checkout and you’ll get it right now for only $80.99 while this deal lasts. Or use the code CLEAN34 on a Spade 2-pack and save $49 off, cutting the price of each to only $75.

Prices are subject to change.

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Tech News

Alphabet’s next moonshot project may give you enhanced hearing

Alphabet’s “moonshot factory” X is working on a new project codenamed “Wolverine,” according to a new leak, and it may involve a wearable that facilitates super-hearing capabilities. The project is described as top-secret at this time and named after the popular superhero character Wolverine. The codename Wolverine wearable project reportedly picked up steam back in 2018, resulting in multiple prototypes.

The details come from four people who previously worked on the project, according to Business Insider, which first reported the leak. Serious work on the project allegedly began within X lab in 2018, and though it is still in its early stages, Wolverine has drawn in industry experts, the sources claim.

Multiple prototypes have reportedly been created under the project, the report states, but they were excessively large due to the inclusion of many microphones. Part of the effort, the sources reveal, is implementing this microphone array while shrinking the wearable’s overall size.

One of the key features behind Wolverine is speech segregation, which would enable the user to focus on and enhance speech coming from a particular person in a room where multiple conversations are happening. However, the sources indicate that Wolverine may one day be more than just a speech isolation tool — and, perhaps, it may one day become a full Alphabet company.

As with any project, Wolverine may end up changing substantially in time — or may eventually be abandoned as a fun concept. In the same way, Wolverine may end up launching as a consumer product under the wider augmented reality market, paving the way for enhanced hearing capabilities.

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Tech News

This AI-powered gadget could completely disrupt the ridiculous hearing aid market

Hearing loss sucks. It’s exhausting. I’ve suffered from partial hearing loss in both ears since the mid 2000’s. In order to function in the real world, I’m forced to exist in a state of constant vigilance. I have to actively listen all the time in order to avoid creating an environment where people are constantly raising their voice at me.

Over time I developed a methodology for interpreting physical and verbal cues to understand what people were saying to me in situations where it was difficult to hear – such as at a conference or at a table with multiple conversations happening at once.

Then COVID-19 happened and everyone started wearing masks. It was like starting all over again because I couldn’t watch people’s lips to fill in the blanks my hearing left out.

It’s estimated over 5% of the world’s population suffers from hearing loss. While it’s most commonly associated with the elderly, hearing loss is also the most prevalent service-related disability among US military veterans.

The fact of the matter is that hearing loss affects people of all demographics, from children with congenital conditions, to otherwise-healthy adults who’ve suffered injury or illness, to the elderly who experience age-related onset.

Unfortunately, as the CEO and cofounder of Whisper, Dwight Crow recently told me, “It isn’t a very sexy problem to solve.”

AI for good

Whisper’s an interesting company. It builds niche hardware as a means to onboard potential customers to its subscription-based update service. That’s probably not how the company’s marketing team would like its work described, but it’s challenging to reconcile the startup’s ambition with its simplicity.

The big idea here is pretty basic: You get hardware into people’s hands and then use your algorithms to keep them coming back for more. Usually, this model is reserved for entities such as YouTube and Twitter. The end game is typically to keep your attention for as long as possible so you’ll watch as many ads as the big tech bosses can shove down your throat.

But Whisper’s not trying to dupe you into infinitely scrolling in order to soften you up for impulse purchases, it’s trying to solve all of the problems with the hearing aid market.

Hearing aids suck

Hearing devices and the examinations necessary for a medical professional to recommend them are not covered by Medicare or most insurers in the US. This means people with hearing loss – of which low or fixed-income people comprise a significantly high percentage of – have to come out of pocket for their devices more often than not. And that means paying anywhere from one to six thousands dollars per device on average.

The high-end devices using traditional hearing aid tech are okay – once you surpass the cost of a pair of audiophile-worthy music headphones it stands to reason you’ll get more than just “it makes things louder.” Okay is better than nothing, but it still means people have to live with substandard hearing, even when its augmented.

Whisper’s solution to hearing loss offers the prospect of not only augmenting your hearing, but reaching superhuman levels when it comes to distinguishing targeted sounds from noise.

How it works

In a nutshell, algorithms pick apart audio to find all the salient sounds through a process called segmentation. This works similar to how AI figures out what’s in a photograph. If, for example, you snap a selfie in front of a sunset, Google’s AI can pick apart different pieces of the image to label. It might decide there’s a you, a sunset, a beach, some clouds, and some birds in the picture.

Later, if you’ve got the proper hardware and you’re using Google Photos, you can simply say “hey Google, show me all my beach pics,” or “hey Google, find images with clouds,” and the AI can surface those results.

It works the same with audio segmentation, though it’s much trickier to work with overlapping noisy sounds than it is to work with flat images.

Whisper didn’t invent the technology its using – natural language processing and audio detection, segmentation, and isolation, have been around for as long as there’s been audio devices – but it’s among the first companies to develop it into an immediately-useful solution to an ages old problem.

Whisper uses a proprietary ear device that’s designed to be more comfortable than average hearing aids. It connects wireless to a “Whisper Brain” that processes the audio using modern algorithms, this keeps it from being bulky. What’s revolutionary, aside from the tech implementation, is how Whisper solves the surrounding problems concerning hearing loss.

Rather than charge thousands for the device, Whisper works on a subscription plan. This not only allows customers to experience hearing improvements without investing thousands up front, but ensures they’ll receive regular updates as the company improves its AI.

Better still, Whisper offers full damage and loss replacement for three years so you don’t have to worry about you or your loved ones doing without one of their five senses just because something bad happens or they don’t have a large enough emergency fund.

Why it’s important

Numerous studies have shown a direct link between hearing loss and dementia. Yet there have been few longitudinal studies involving long-term outcomes for Alzheimer’s patients who’ve had hearing loss interventions. The research shows that people suffering from hearing loss experience isolation, which can be correlated to worsening dementia symptoms, but exactly how much cognitive benefit a better hearing device could provide people remains unclear.

When I spoke to Whisper CEO Dwight Crow, he explained that the time was right for disruption:

We’ve seen an explosion in the ability to extract semantic sense from language … ultimately, we want to provide people with a better signal to noise ratio.

But how much difference can “better” make when it comes to hearing aids? The status quo aren’t too far removed, in purpose, from the old go stick a horn in your ear method from the pre-electronics age. Now, hearing aids use specialty microphones to pick up noises and an onboard audio processor to boost the signals the device gauges as within the proper frequency — but the end benefit for users isn’t all that much greater than just turning the volume up. 

It turns out that hearing aids can not only get a lot better, but even a tiny bit of clarity actually makes a huge difference. According to Crow:

Ours performs two-to-three decibels better than any other hearing aid. That’s the difference, for many people, between comprehensible and incomprehensible.

What’s next

This isn’t a turnkey AI solution where some fly-by-night startup taps into a hardware market to peddle repackaged university AI (looking at you, Amazon’s second-page AI smart gadgets market).

Whisper’s built a lab in California, it’s worked with the Mitsubishi group on research, and its product development process includes working closely with groups of people who live with hearing loss. And, from what I could tell from my conversation with Crow, the company really cares.

When I asked why they wanted to build a better hearing aid instead of taking the same technology and know-how and building spy-tech with DARPA for the Pentagon or something like that, Crow said it was because  with Whisper “there’s just such an opportunity to help people.” Both Crow and his co-founder decided to create the company after watching loved ones struggle with hearing loss and the status quo.

You can find out more about Whisper here.

Published February 15, 2021 — 19:41 UTC

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