Among the drones, smart watches and 4K TVs at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there emerged an unexpected star: a rechargeable hearing aid battery.
The ZPower Rechargeable System for Hearing Aids earned its creator, ZPower LLC of Camarillo, California a CES 2016 Innovation Awards Honor for outstanding design and engineering in consumer electronics. Taking the pulse of the hearing aid market and reacting accordingly, ZPower offers consumers the ability to turn new or existing hearing aids into rechargeable devices.
With product innovation, timing is everything, and the timing of ZPower’s new product couldn’t be more perfect. According to Fortune magazine, “…the top tech need on the mind of most Americans isn’t sharper televisions, smarter watches, virtual reality glasses or connected refrigerators. It’s better batteries.” So it makes sense that a recent MarkeTrak study found that rechargeable batteries and rechargeable hearing aids neared the top of the list of features that hearing aid users were seeking.
The desire for longer battery life isn’t a new concept. However, users of hearing aids have, in recent years, begun experiencing a different problem: that of reduced battery life. That’s right: If you suspect that your hearing aid batteries don’t last as long as they used to, it’s not just your imagination.
There is a logical explanation for the shrinking battery life. The move toward wireless technology in hearing devices, while beneficial to hearing aid users in most respects, also has a downside: the wireless technology simply drains batteries more quickly. While batteries used to last a week or two, now they might only last a couple of days at most.
The result is not only frequent and inconvenient battery changing, but batteries dying at inopportune moments. It’s an environmental issue as well. Hearing aid users typically go through about 100 batteries per year. Since the batteries are not recyclable, that adds up to 1.5 million hearing aid batteries going into landfills each year in the U.S.
Although silver-zinc batteries have been used for a number of years in aerospace and military technologies, it wasn’t until 1997 that ZPower began looking into their possible commercial use. By 2007, they found their niche: ZPower started collaborating with hearing aid manufacturers on the possible use of their batteries in hearing devices. The result? A silver-zinc battery that can be integrated into new or existing hearing aids in order to make them rechargeable.
While a small number of rechargeable hearing aids are already in existence, they have failed to gain a foothold among hearing care professionals. Poor reliability, expense, lack of availability and short charge time are often cited as the reasons why providers don’t choose them for their patients.
But now, the ZPower Rechargeable System is changing the game for hearing aid users and their hearing care professionals.
For one thing, the silver-zinc material of the battery offers a reliable full day charge, unlike previous versions of rechargeable batteries made of a nickel-metal hybrid which tended run out of charge in the middle of the day. Another advantage is that patients need only return once a year to their hearing care professional to have the battery replaced, which means the hearing aid user doesn’t have to fumble with batteries ever again. In addition, the old battery is fully recyclable, which means fewer batteries going into landfills.
Since many users of hearing aids are elderly, the fact that the ZPower rechargeable system eliminates the need for battery changes is an especially beneficial feature. “Disposable hearing aid batteries are used by people with varying levels of dexterity, often run out of power in the middle of the day, and can require frequent changing,” said Barry A. Freeman, Ph.D., vice president of business development for ZPower. ”In contrast, the ZPower Rechargeable System offers 24+ hours of continuous power each day, charges overnight, takes the place of an estimated 100 disposable batteries, and lasts a full year. The ZPower hearing aid battery is replaced once per year by a hearing care professional so the patient need never touch a hearing aid battery again.”
So how does it work? Simply put, The ZPower Rechargeable System takes the existing hearing aids and retrofits them with two new battery doors that are compatible with the new technology. The system also comes with silver-zinc batteries and a binaural charger. A hearing care professional replaces the existing battery doors with the ZPower battery doors and inserts the silver-zinc battery cells in the battery door. Once a patient leaves the office with the new system, all he needs to do is recharge the hearing aids daily. Taking dexterity differences into account, the charger is designed to be foolproof; a magnet in the base ensures the hearing aids are in the correct position for charging every time. And if a user forgets to charge their hearing aids overnight, the system will still accept a standard zinc-air battery.
The ZPower batteries and battery doors have been engineered to fit a wide variety of the most popular hearing aids, to make retrofitting most hearing aids easy. Your hearing care provider can walk you through the process and let you know if your existing hearing aids are compatible.
Hearing aid users spoke and ZPower listened. The resulting technology will make lives easier for millions of hearing aid users and enable hearing care professionals to deliver better quality of service to their patients.
“Our goal was to develop a system that improves the quality of life for hearing aid wearers and allows consumers to ‘never touch another battery,’” said ZPower CEO Ross E. Dueber, Ph.D. “We want recharging your hearing aid to be as easy as recharging your smartphone.”