Hearing aids that can order their own batteries, turn on the TV and let you know when the washing has finished its cycle? Thanks to applying IFTTT technology, software engineers working on programming hearing aids are making advanced into automation. WBJ talked to software architect Sławomir Kwasiborski and Tomasz Frydrychewicz, team leader for IFTTT at Demand Technology Centre, the Warsaw-based R&D Center of Danish hearing aid giant William Demant
Interview by Beata Socha
WBJ: You use the If This Then That (IFTTT) technology in your hearing devices. What does it do?
Sławomir Kwasiborski: The IFTTT technology makes using the hearing device a lot easier. Many tasks that users have had to do by themselves are now completed without their active involvement. We can activate a program for when the user is working, or a program that will activate on its own when the user gets home. The hearing aid adjusts to what you are doing and to the environment you’re in.
Can the hearing aid turn on the TV and the coffee machine as soon as I enter the house for example?
S.K.: Of course it can. IFTTT allows the user to perform operations that are as complex as we need them to be. By default, though, the hearing aid uses the technology to perform tasks that are somehow connected with it. For instance, if the battery in the device is starting to run low, the program can order us a new one.
Tomasz Frydrychewicz: The integration of hearing aids with home automation system is very interest¬ing. IFTTT became popular a while back in smart home solutions. For example, the doorbell rings and the user of our hearing aid gets a message on his/her device; or when the user turns his device on in the morning, IFTTT can automatically switch on the lights. New things and new commands are added all the time. For example, if the smog level in the city exceeds a certain level, the user can get a message saying “Don’t even think about going jogging today!” or something similar.
Can the user take advantage of programs that other people have come up with?
S.K.: Absolutely, and that is what makes the technology so powerful. Different users come up with different ideas on how they can use their hearing aid and then create their own Applet, as IFTTT rules are referred to, which they can publish. The list of published recipes is very long, from the most basic ones to some very complicated stuff.
So it’s like augmented reality installed on your hearing aid?
T.F.: Yes, something like that.
Does one need to be able to program to use this tech?
T.F.: No, but IFTTT is undergoing a transformation. Right now it is based on simple rules where you just choose a condition in which the rule will be activated and the reaction that is supposed to happen. This will change soon and there will be options to use filters, changing how our rule is activated. That will require more understanding of the technology. I think that an 80-year-old user of our hearing aids might have a problem with using the technology. However, the simple rules will still continue to be available.
S.K.: Usually, an older person has someone who can help them with the tech. Even though we try to make our hearing aids as user-friendly as possible, their use is still not always intuitive for the elderly. Also, the IFTTT technology in the hearing aids can help the people who take care of the elderly: e.g. they can create rules that will let them know what is happening, like when the battery is running low etc.
How are your hearing aids controlled? Do you need constant access to the internet?
S.K.: All devices that use IFTTT rules need an internet connection. But the hearing aid also has a Blue¬tooth connection. So the hearing aid can communicate with the phone, and then the phone can access the IFTTT service via the internet.
T.F.: Of course, the hearing aid itself does not need the internet. You can use Bluetooth on your phone to change programs on the hearing aid or control the volume for example.
How big are time lags in communication with the hearing aid?
T.F.: It depends. You can’t treat the technology as a real-time system. Usually, the lags are small – up to a few seconds. But there are quite a few elements in between: the activity supplier service, trigger supplier service, our service that brings them together, the IFTTT service, and of course the hearing aid itself. There are many links in the process.
Can this technology be used for other applications as well?
T.F.: All I can say for now is that we are working on applications that will facilitate scientific research. It will collect and supply data for scientific studies done in Denmark at Eriksholm Research Centre, which is part of the William Demant Group.