Gadgets

Cynaps Enhance is a skull-vibrating hearing aid embedded in a baseball cap

At a time when “wearable electronics” means “yet another fitness monitor,”  it’s rare to see a wearable device that does anything particularly new or interesting. The Cynaps Enhance, however, isn’t like most devices.

Created by serial tinkerer Mike Freeman, the Cynaps Enhance has a simple, if slightly ambitious, premise: Rather than restore hearing via invasive surgery or a conspicuous hearing aid, the device wants to do so in a way that’s both discreet and stylish.

Using a pair of microphones, the Cynaps Enhance captures sound in stereo, and transfers it to wearers’ inner ears by vibrating the bones of the skull. By allowing sound to bypass the eardrum and outer ear, the Enhance lets people hear even if they don’t have fully functioning auditory systems. (The device is actually a follow-up to a nearly identical one that wasn’t focused on the hearing impaired.)

But Freeman cautions that the Cynaps Enhance won’t work for everyone. People with nerve deafness or inner ear problems, for example, won’t get much benefit, he says. Instead the device will be most beneficial to people who have problems with the outer and middle parts of their ears. Essentially, if you can already hear yourself speaking, scratching your head, or brushing your teeth, the Cynaps Enhance will work for you.

And then there’s the price.

At $200, the Cynaps Enhance is roughly one-thirtieth the cost of procedures like bone anchored hearing aid surgery (BAHA), a costly and semi-invasive surgery that many hearing-impaired people actively stay away from. That’s understandable:  Not only are BAHA implants scary looking, but the surgery can result in skin infections or, in some cases, even meningitis. “People just don’t want to have this thing in their heads,” Feeman told VentureBeat.

Even ordinary in-ear hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars and are often not covered by health insurance.

The Cynaps Enhance, in contrast, costs little, sits on top of the head, and is hardly distinguishable from the average baseball cap. And it’s that that Freeman hopes will attract more people to it.

“This really is meant to be very easy to use. If you want to do something that doesn’t require hearing, you can just take it off,” Freeman said.

Here’s Freeman talking about device at the Wearable Tech Expo in New York City last month.

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