It’s so obvious when you think about it. The iPhone has a microphone, a computer that can process audio, and earphones – why not use it as hearing aid? That’s just what a group of scientists from the University of Essex have done, with their BioAid app. It has the potential to replace thousand-dollar hearing aids with a free download ... as long as users don’t mind keeping their phone close at hand.

BioAid works with the iPhone (it’s optimized for the iPhone 5), iPod touch and iPad. Once users have installed the app, they start by going through a setup procedure in which they determine the settings that best address their particular type of hearing loss. There are six fixed settings to choose from, each one of which has four fine-tuning sub-settings. These allow users to target the specific frequencies that they have difficulty hearing.

No hearing tests or visits to hearing aid specialists are required.

The app doesn’t simply boost all audio levels within a given frequency, however, as that would make loud sounds extra unpleasant. This boosting of already-loud sounds is one of the reasons that some hearing aid-users avoid noisy settings such as social gatherings, or simply choose not to use their hearing aids.

Instead, BioAid is able to bring up low sounds, while turning down loud noises in the user’s earphones. It’s inspired by the biology that allows the human ear to do the same sort of thing, hence its name.

Down the road, it’s hoped that BioAid could be incorporated into tiny behind-the-ear devices or smartwatches, and that its settings could be tweaked remotely by people such as audiologists. For now, though, a beta version is available free of charge on iTunes.

Source: University of Essex, BioAid