sensory augmentationThis story in EETimes is about a trend that is well underway now, but which is going to grow even more rapidly in the next few years: the melding of medical technology with consumer products. The impact on economics and lifestyle will be sweeping.

You could call “hearables” a subset of wearables, which already command a large consumer market. Apparently, the anatomy of the ear is conducive to all sorts of medically useful sensing. To date, few have focused on the ear as being the foundation for a wearable device, so there would seem to be a significant opportunity to do just that.

The sensing aspect of wearable devices is one thing. The advent of “hearables” points to what I believe will be a broader use of medical technology coupled with consumer devices: sensory augmentation. Devices such as hearing aids, contact lenses and limb prosthetics are intended to make up for a loss of physical function. Very soon we will be seeing these types of devices being developed to enhance normal function, enabling us to acquire acute hearing, vision, touch, smell and taste. There will be devices that aid strength and stamina as well. All of these devices will be marketed to a healthy population as consumer-oriented devices. There is a big opportunity here for those with the vision and determination to pursue it.