Communicating with a Cochlear Implant

Hello everyone.

My girlfriend is 90% deaf. She has a CI (Cochlear Implant) on one side and a ReSound hearing aid on the other. They communicate with each other over BLE. Both the hearing aid and the CI can be individually streamed to directly (without the use of an adapter) with a mobile device, as long as it is an iPhone, apparently. She is somewhat unique in her deafness in that she was born hearing, and due to a birth defect, has been slowly losing her hearing over time. She lost speech comprehension in one ear completely when she was 20. The other ear is unfortunately not far behind, but she can still hear from that ear quite well with a normal hearing aid.

Now, this setup works, but it does not work well. She tells me that ReSound is the only hearing aid on the market that can communicate back and forth with the CI wirelessly. This is an issue because she says the quality of the ReSound hearing aid is very poor in comparison to other brands she used before she had a CI. She also is not able to stream audio wirelessly from her laptop, android phones, or any other consumer device that isn’t an iPhone. And now she tells me that the iPhone Bluetooth connection with the ReSound aid is getting unreliable with the newest phone.

Now, I understand that Bluetooth audio is inherently not “audiophile” quality. But if she says she can notice a substantial difference, then I am inclined to think it’s severe. I think the Tympan, being an open source project, is probably a better option for a high quality bluetooth hearing system and I would like to utilize it to help her in some way. I have hardware hacking skills, arduino experience, BLE knowledge, and I am a radio operator. I am more than capable of building and programming the Tympan myself, but I would really like to know if it has any documented ability to communicate with the CI’s BLE protocol. I would like to figure out how the ReSound talks to it and exactly what it is communicating back and forth, and while i can sniff the BLE connection and reverse engineer it, I am also not one to screw around with an implant system that cost a quarter of a million dollars that’s inside my girlfriends skull.

If anyone has any info on this i’d really appreciate it

Wow! This is a really interesting problem! And, it seems like a perfect example of why open source / open APIs would provide tons of benefit. If that Bluetooth/BLE link were made to be open and the API was documented in some way, the community could make contributions. We may or may not be able to improve the experience, but either way it might offer some sense of control to the people who have to live with the technology.

Unfortunately, I don’t know much about the Bluetooth Audio / BLE interface that cochlear implant devices use. It’s troubling that you describe her system as being iOS only. That makes me think that it uses one of Apple’s proprietary bluetooth modes. Their proprietary modes do good things (reduced latency, I believe, is one of the most important features) but it does mean that it tends to be less hackable by open source folks.

The short answer is that, no, sorry, I can’t offer any help on using Tympan with that setup. The longer answer is that, man, that sounds like a really cool project to try to make progress on; it’s a real bummer that I don’t have any knowledge or experience to help move it along!