Interview with Jerry Ruzicka, President, Starkey Labs
Topic: Starkey Innovations Introduced at AudiologyNOW!
CAROLYN SMAKA: Great to see you again, Jerry, and thank you for your time today.
JERRY RUZICKA: Thank you, Carolyn.
SMAKA: I just finished learning about Voice iQ in your booth at AudiologyNOW! and I think it's great that the video featured Brent Edwards, Ph.D., Vice President of Research instead of a spokes model.
RUZICKA: Yes, our team at Starkey Hearing Research Center (SHRC) led by Brent did a considerable amount of research in developing Voice iQ and it shows in the quality of the product. Instead of using a talking head for the video, we selected Brent, who worked on the product, to introduce it at AudiologyNOW!
SMAKA: We're excited to have Nazanin Nooraei, Au.D. of SHRC on AudiologyOnline next month to talk about their study on hearing aids and cognition, it's very interesting stuff.
Jerry, can you give me an overview of what Starkey showcased at AudiologyNOW?
RUZICKA: We have a lot of significant things happening at Starkey, many of which were introduced at AudiologyNOW.
As you experienced, we demonstrated Voice iQ, which is a high performance noise management system. One of the biggest problems that people with hearing impairment face, of course, is trying to listen in noise. As you know, there has been a lot of work done historically in the industry on noise management. However, anything that has been shown to be effective in controlling noise also degrades speech. So, what we've done at SHRC is develop algorithms that actually attack the noise while preserving speech. The effect is rather dramatic. We believe this is just as important a breakthrough for speech in noise as what we did for feedback a few years back when we developed our feedback cancellation. Voice iQ will be available later this month in our S Series iQ products.
The new S Series family of products features Voice iQ, Starkey's proprietary high performance noise management and speech preservation system.
We also introduced our wireless system, which is a longer term development that will launch later this year. We're calling it IRIS Technology and it's an entirely new wireless technology, featuring direct-to-hearing aid wireless programming and high performance audio streaming. It's a 900 MHz system, and we demonstrated it at AudiologyNOW in a few different ways - both with wireless programming and with our media streamer.
Our approach to wireless is different from what anyone else has done so far. Right now, the world of wireless is a world of streamers. Streamers are difficult for people to use, and they're not intuitive. Streamers involve another utility that you have to hang around your neck, pair, learn to use, etc. The average age of our patients is in the late '60s, and they do not want to be burdened with these devices. What we've developed with our IRIS Technology is a hands-free approach to wireless. The effect, again, is dramatic. If a patient walks in the door to your office for programming, you simply have to find the patient on your computer. You don't have to deal with cables, you don't have to put anything around the patient's neck, and you can even program the patient's hearing aids from the next room! The benefits of our technology include an extended range and that it's hands-free. From a convenience standpoint when it comes to programming your patient's hearing aids, there is no better system.
IRIS Technology also has ear-to-ear capability so we can have ear-to-ear functioning and some shared signal processing that we are working on in the SHRC. This system also features high performance audio streaming. For example, with our television device that we call SurfLink Media, you'll notice there is no latency, no delay. Normal speaker-to-ear time is about 10 ms, and this technology is near normal, at 17 ms. Other systems have a delay up to 177 ms;listening at 177 ms delay means you'll see the mouth move first and the words will come later. In addition, we also stream in stereo, while other systems have a monaural signal stream.
The hands-free system means maximum ease of use for patients. With IRIS wireless technology, if a patient walks in to his living room, he will hear the tv wirelessly, without having to use a streamer device. There are no buttons to push or switches to flip - he'll hear the tv naturally, just like we do with our ears. It's simply automatic, and we are very excited about that.
SMAKA: In addition to a new high performance noise management system and a new wireless system, there's also a new product design in the Starkey line-up as well, correct?
Otolens - the world's first Invisible-in-the-Canal
RUZICKA: Yes, our other new innovation is Otolens™. Otolens is a deep insertion product. If you think about CICs today, most terminate at the beginning of the 2nd bend. That is where Otolens starts. With our digital modeling capability we actually start the device at the 2nd bend and terminate just a few millimeters away from the tympanic membrane. It's totally invisible, so we've created a new category for it that we call Invisible-In-the-Canal. The fitting range is very broad;since it is fit so deep in the ear canal you pick up a boost in sound pressure. It's an advanced digital system with Voice iQ, which may be surprising given its extremely small design.
SMAKA: What kind of feedback have you gotten from patients about Otolens?
RUZICKA: We've had a field trial running for about four months and we have fit Otolens to about 600 people so far. It has been very successful. People love the fact that it's invisible;that's obviously a big attraction and benefit. Use on the phone is also dramatically improved. To quote one of the people who wore Otolens in the field trial, "I feel like I've got my ears back". That is a nice way to describe it.
Otolens starts at the 2nd bend, where other CICs end
SMAKA: Very nice. Jerry, to switch gears, the word "telehealth" is hot right now across many sectors of healthcare, and I see Starkey is offering a new resource in this area.
RUZICKA: Yes, with our T2 On Demand, for the first time ever a clinician can do some standard hearing aid programming remotely via the telephone. During the initial programming session, the clinician enters a security code similarly to a code you may use to lock your mobile phone. The security code ensures that only those clinicians with the code can make changes to that patient's hearing aids. Then, during follow-up, if the patient needs some simple adjustments to address "too soft, too loud" or whatever those comments may be, adjustments can be made over the phone. The patient can avoid coming all the way back to your office. As you can imagine, this is beneficial for patients who may live a distance from the office and it also gives the clinician more flexibility and control with the fitting. This is a great utility we've added to our product line.
SMAKA: It is hard to believe that technology is actually available today. What is new with Starkey Pediatrics?
RUZICKA: Our comprehensive pediatric program was developed using our evidence-based approach, with insight from pediatric professionals from around the country as well as the expertise of Jerry Northern, Ph.D. It features a complete line of pediatric hearing aids that interface with FM systems, provide priority speech on demand, and offer all the benefits of Starkey technology;along with intuitive fitting software, pediatric support materials and accessories and dedicated pediatric audiology support.
We also have a relationship with Nickelodeon™ and feature licensed characters in our support materials and earmold designs. These round out our array of colorful earmolds, tubing and BTEs for kids of all ages.
Starkey offers Nickelodeon characters as part of its comprehensive pediatric program
SMAKA: It was pretty surreal seeing Jerry Northern next to SpongeBob and Dora in the Starkey pediatrics exhibit at AudiologyNOW! [laughs]
SMAKA: And I heard that Harvey Abrams just joined your staff.
RUZICKA: I'm really proud of our ability to attract talent, and Harvey is an extremely talented individual who has made so many contributions to the field. He looked at Starkey, saw what we are about, saw our direction and wanted to be part of our team and we are very happy to have him. We are blessed with great scientists, researchers, and engineers and will continue building upon our talent going forward.
SMAKA: Jerry, as busy as you are, I appreciate you making time for AudiologyOnline. Thank you.
RUZICKA: Nice talking with you.
Starkey Laboratories, Inc. is a privately held, global hearing technology company headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minn. The company is recognized for its innovative design, development and distribution of comprehensive digital hearing systems. Founded in 1967, Starkey employs over 3,250 people, operates 22 facilities and conducts business in over 100 markets worldwide. For more information, visit www.starkeypro.com or the Starkey Web Channel on AudiologyOnline.