Aquaris brings sound to hearing-impaired underwater

When wearing a hearing aid, even a day at the beach can be worrisome. That's because the devices are not just expensive— often costing thousands of dollars— but also extremely delicate, easily damaged by moisture and dust. Siemens addresses these issues with a new durable hearing aid that is waterproof, dust-proof and shock-resistant.

For the hearing impaired, partaking in activities like swimming or beach volleyball usually means having to remove the hearing aid and miss out on the world of sound. Subsequently, one in six hearing aid-wearers forgo certain activities, according to a survey conducted by Siemens. This poses more of a concern for swimmers, who wouldn't be able to hear a lifeguard's warnings while in the ocean.

Siemens' Aquaris hearing aid is specifically designed to be used in active environments where there's water, sand, or dust. Watertight seals and membranes keep moisture out while still allowing air to flow, which is necessary when using standard zinc air batteries. The battery compartment is sealed into the rest of the hearing aid, which is produced as a single piece. With this waterproofing, Aquaris can be submerged in three feet of water for 30 minutes without damage, which should definitely be enough for a day at the beach.

The hearing aid can also stream audio directly from a source with VoiceLink, a Bluetooth transmitter and microphone, allowing swim coaches, for example, to communicate with their hearing-impaired athletes during practice and meets. To address the delay that plagues Bluetooth, typically lasting about 200 milliseconds, Siemens modified the technology so the lag is less than 20 milliseconds. Reducing the delay is especially important with hearing aids to avoid out-of-sync audio during face-to-face communication. At 20 milliseconds "it's basically real time," says Thomas Powers, vice president of product management at Siemens.

"It's understandable that hearing aids can get damaged with sweat, water, dust and sand. But people shouldn't have to choose between the activities they love and the ability to hear," said Powers, who is also an audiologist. Aquaris will retail for about $2,500.

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