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Samsung spruiks Galaxy Buds Pro performance as comparable to hearing aids • The Register

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Samsung says a study of Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro, conducted by the Samsung Medical Center, suggest its wireless earbuds could be a handy substitute for hearing aids. Samsung does not make hearing aids.

A study [PDF] published in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical and Experimental Otorhinolaryngology found that Galaxy Buds Pro’s Ambient Sound feature was effective in helping those with mild to moderate hearing loss to decipher sounds.

The study compared the efficacy of the Ambient Sound feature in the Galaxy Buds Pro (RRP ~US$200), which amplifies nearby sounds in four volume levels, to a ReSound LiNX Quattro hearing aid (which sells for thousands) and the Etymotic Bean personal sound amplifier (RRP ~$US$700).

Results found that Samsung’s earbuds do work significantly to improve sound, albeit less successfully than the other devices tested.

The research was completed in partnership with Samsung Medical Center, a part of the wider and is the first to demonstrate true wireless earbuds potential as therapeutic wearables for hearing loss.

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According to the World Health Organization, only 17 percent of those who could benefit from using a hearing aid currently use the devices. The gap is consistently high in all parts of the world. However, 80 percent of people with disabling hearing loss live in low-and-middle-income countries.

“With rapidly aging populations it’s expected that, by 2050, one in ten people will have hearing loss. But while hearing aids are useful for managing hearing impairments, uptake remains relatively low, mainly due to the high price,” said Il Joon Moon, Associate Professor at the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at Samsung Medical Center.

While Samsung doesn’t claim its earbuds can replace hearing aids, the company does appear to be positioning itself as an alternative.

The super small study of 18 people found that the earbuds met hearing aid performance criteria and adequately boosted sound at seven different frequencies.

When it came to the ability to recognize words and sentences, 57 percent of study participants reported better communication with the earbuds than with no device. However, the earbuds did not perform as well as the amplifier or hearing aids.

“Samsung has been working in collaboration with Samsung Medical Center for over 10 years, focusing on the impact mobile devices can have on hearing and researching new ways to optimize sound experiences for users,” said Samsung’s press release of its name-sake hospital where the research was completed.

Hearing aid uptake remains relatively low, mainly due to their high price

The journal in which the study is published has an impact factor of 2.11,as judged by rating organisation SciJournal.org. Impact factor is a very subjective ranking of science journals based on the number of citations its articles receive. Three is considered a good rating, ten stellar, less than one is about average.

Ear-worn devices are already a huge boon in the wearable tech industry with spending on them rising 124 percent globally in 2020. Gartner expects in-ear wearables to account for $39.2 billion of $81.5 billion total wearable spending in 2021. The growth is thanks to remote workers upgrading for video conference and consumer use with smartphone devices, said Gartner.

Samsung often bundles its Buds with new smartphones in pre-order promotions that presumably make both more attractive. The hearing aid-like sound boost could help Samsung grow its share of the earbud and smartphone market, especially as wearable tech as medical devices that can do things like measure blood pressure becomes more common.

However, it is unlikely anyone would consider these earbuds as a proper adequate replacement of medical grade hearing aids. ®



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SSD belonging to Euro-cloud Scaleway was stolen from back of a truck, then turned up on YouTube • The Register

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In brief Deepmind and the European Bioinformatics Institute released a database of more than 350,000 3D protein structures predicted by the biz’s AI model AlphaFold.

That data covers the 20,000 or so proteins made in the human body, and is available for anyone to study. The proteomes of 20 other organisms, from Zebrafish to E.coli bacteria, are also in there, too, and hundreds of millions of more structures will be added over time, we’re told.

“In the hands of scientists around the world, this new protein almanac will enable and accelerate research that will advance our understanding of these building blocks of life,” said DeepMind’s CEO Demis Hassabis. He hopes that it will be a valuable resource that will be used in the discovery of new drugs and our understanding of diseases.

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Reid Hoffman to join board of electric air-taxi start-up Joby

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Reid Hoffman. Image: ReidHoffman.org

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman is helping to take Joby, which is being billed as ‘Tesla meets Uber in the air’, public through a SPAC deal.

Electric air-taxi start-up Joby Aviation will add Silicon Valley figure Reid Hoffman to its board as the company prepares to go public via a merger with a blank-cheque firm.

LinkedIn co-founder Hoffman, who is now a partner at venture capital firm Greylock, has a key connection to the 12-year-old start-up. Earlier this year, it was announced that Joby is going public through a $6.6bn reverse merger deal with Reinvent Technology Partners, the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Hoffman set up with Zynga founder Mark Pincus and investor Michael Thompson.

The deal is expected to close in this summer. Joby is the first aerial vehicle start-up to go public via the SPAC route, and the deal will provide the company with $1.6bn in cash.

SPACs have been growing in popularity this year as they can provide a quicker way of bringing a company public rather than the traditional route of an initial public offering.

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Hoffman will be added by the Joby board once the deal is complete, alongside Google general counsel Halimah DeLaine Prado and former Southwest Airlines CFO Laura Wright.

Toyota Motor Corporation board member and operating officer James Kuffner and Zoox CEO Aicha Evans have already been added to the board in recent months.

“We are incredibly humbled to have been able to assemble such a remarkable and diverse group of world-class leaders to guide and support Joby as we plan to enter the public market,” said JoeBen Bevirt, Joby CEO and founder.

Joby acquired Uber’s Elevate flying car business at the end of December and now plans to begin a commercial passenger ‘air taxi’ service in 2024. Hoffman described the venture as “Tesla meets Uber in the air” in a recent interview.

The company will work with Toyota from its California-based manufacturing facility to build its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Toyota led the company’s $620m Series C funding round last year, with other investors including Intel Capital and JetBlue Technology Ventures.

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Virtual contact worse than no contact for over-60s in lockdown, says study | Coronavirus

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Virtual contact during the pandemic made many over-60s feel lonelier and more depressed than no contact at all, new research has found.

Many older people stayed in touch with family and friends during lockdown using the phone, video calls, and other forms of virtual contact. Zoom choirs, online book clubs and virtual bedtime stories with grandchildren helped many stave off isolation.

But the study, among the first to comparatively assess social interactions across households and mental wellbeing during the pandemic, found many older people experienced a greater increase in loneliness and long-term mental health disorders as a result of the switch to online socialising than those who spent the pandemic on their own.

“We were surprised by the finding that an older person who had only virtual contact during lockdown experienced greater loneliness and negative mental health impacts than an older person who had no contact with other people at all,” said Dr Yang Hu of Lancaster University, who co-wrote the report, published on Monday in Frontiers in Sociology.

“We were expecting that a virtual contact was better than total isolation but that doesn’t seem to have been the case for older people,” he added.

The problem, said Hu, was that older people unfamiliar with technology found it stressful to learn how to use it. But even those who were familiar with technology often found the extensive use of the medium over lockdown so stressful that it was more damaging to their mental health than simply coping with isolation and loneliness.

“Extensive exposure to digital means of communication can also cause burnout. The results are very consistent,” said Hu, who collected data from 5,148 people aged 60 or over in the UK and 1,391 in the US – both before and during the pandemic.

“It’s not only loneliness that was made worse by virtual contact, but general mental health: these people were more depressed, more isolated and felt more unhappy as a direct result of their use of virtual contact,” he said.

The report, Covid-19, Inter-household Contact and Mental Wellbeing Among Older Adults in the US and the UK, analysed national data from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council-funded Understanding Society Covid-19 survey and the US Health and Retirement Study.

Hu said more emphasis needed to be placed on safe ways to have face-to-face contact in future emergencies. There must also, he added, be a drive to bolster the digital capacity of the older age groups.

“We need to have disaster preparedness,” he said. “We need to equip older people with the digital capacity to be able to use technology for the next time a disaster like this comes around.”

The findings outlined the limitations of a digital-only future and the promise of a digitally enhanced future in response to population ageing in the longer term, added Hu.

“Policymakers and practitioners need to take measures to pre-empt and mitigate the potential unintended implications of household-centred pandemic responses for mental wellbeing,” he said.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, welcomed the report. “We know the virtual environment can exacerbate those feelings of not actually being there with loved ones in person,” she said.

“It’s essential therefore that government makes preventing and tackling loneliness a top policy priority, backed up with adequate funding.

“It’s not over the top to point out that in the worst cases, loneliness can kill in the sense that it undermines resilience to health threats of many kinds, as well as leading to older people in the twilight of their lives losing all hope, so they lack a reason to carry on.”

Patrick Vernon, associate director at the Centre for Ageing Better, said he saw many examples of older people using technology to stay connected in “really positive ways”.

But he was also doubtful: “We know that even for those who are online, lack of skills and confidence can prevent people from using the internet in the ways that they’d like to.”

Previous research by the Centre for Ageing Better found that since the pandemic, there had been significant increases in the use of digital technology among those aged 50-70 years who were already online.

But there are still 3 million people across the UK who are offline, with a significant digital divide affecting low-income households. Twenty-seven per cent of people aged 50-70 with an annual household income under £25,000 were offline before the pandemic.

Vernon said: “Our research has found that some people who were offline found it difficult to connect with family, friends and neighbours during the pandemic – and even those who were online said technology didn’t compensate for missing out on physical social interactions.”

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