Dec 7, 2018 | By Cameron

A pair of 3D printed earbuds created by Manchester Metropolitan University student Elen Parry could give the hearing impaired a stylish and functional upgrade. Her HeX earbuds aim to improve upon the aesthetic and limited functionality of hearing aids that often turn potential users off from using the assistive devices despite the benefits they provide.

Traditional hearing aids have come a long way in regards to miniaturization and skin tone matching, but their medical look still draws attention to the hearing loss and can cause users to feel self conscious about their disability. By incorporating the music listening and call answering functions of Bluetooth headphones and designing them to look like modern earbuds, Parry opens the market for HeX to more than the hearing impaired.

“My mission is to encourage social inclusion through my designs, to create improved situations for everyone. The driving principle behind creating HeX earbuds was to create a hearing device that is for everyone – whether you live with hearing loss or perfect hearing,” said Parry. “People with disabilities often feel excluded and conspicuous because of their medical devices, so I want to transform hearing aids into a desirable wearable tech product that gives people enhanced hearing, style and confidence – something that anyone might want to wear.”

But her concept goes a step further by embedding an E1 Chip receiver and processor that can differentiate between background noise and speech, and can lower the volume of the former while boosting the latter. Additionally, HeX would be able to decrease incoming sounds when environments are too loud, protecting the inner ear from damage and prolonging healthy hearing function. And because they’re Bluetooth enabled, several users could hop on the same audio stream. This would allow groups of people standing in the same crowd to listen to different audio sources; conferences and events with multiple speakers on nearby stages could avoid cross chatter, and attendees of music festivals could tune in to their favorite band while standing in line for beer.

The custom-shaped graphene batteries and other components can only be produced using 3D printing if costs are to be kept low enough for marketability, something Parry is keenly aware of, saying, “3D printing enables us to manufacture them quickly and relatively simply, so HeX earbuds could be easily produced for a mass audience.”

A prototype was 3D printed at Print City, Manchester Metropolitan’s advanced 3D printing and digital manufacturing centre. Print City’s academic lead, Professor Craig Banks, said: “This is one of many examples of how additive manufacturing and out-of-the-box thinking by Elen disrupts the current design of medical devices.” With the HeX addressing the needs of the disabled as well as the desires of those just wanting to amplify or protect their hearing, there’s great potential for its success. HeX was, after all, the top pick for the Design Council’s New Designers 2018 event.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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