Hearing aid technology has dramatically advanced in the last 25 years since the commercialization of the first digital hearing aid. The majority of individuals with digital hearing aids, however, use these devices as if they are a standard analogue hearing aid, (i.e., only for their amplification and equalisation features). New algorithms are under-used or not exploited to their full potential (Figure 1). This could be because of inefficient training.
Traditional gaming technologies have been successfully employed in non-leisure scenarios for learning and skill acquisition, empowerment, and social inclusion (McMorris. Eur J Phys Edu 1998;3:65-74 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1740898980030106?journalCode=cpes19; Johnson. “Serious games for language learning: How much game, how much AI?” Proceedings of the 2005 conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education: Supporting Learning through Intelligent and Socially Informed Technology 2005:306-313 http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1562569). Studies have shown games have benefits for enabling product familiarization specifically for older users (Darzentas. “Mastering Technology for Greater Autonomy: Device Familiarization for Older Users via Games.” 6th European Conference on Games Based Learning 2012:131 http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/82397798/mastering-technology-greater-autonomy-device-familiarisation-older-users-via-games). These authors describe how a game-based approach can be applied to the process of device familiarization to provide motivation and reduce anxiety and uncertainty associated with the use of technology. Dryburgh notes technology use is self-taught by either watching others, asking advice from others, trial and error, or reading the manual (Dryburgh. Can Soc Trends 2002:20-24 http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-008-x/2001004/article/6121-eng.pdf).
3D Tune-In (3DTI) is an EU Horizon 2020 funded project (2015-2018) that brings together the relevant stakeholders from traditional gaming industries, academic institutions, a large hearing aid manufacturer, and hearing communities to produce digital games in the field of hearing aid technologies and hearing loss in children and older adults. Five games aimed at children or adults will provide accurate 3D sound simulations to demonstrate and provide training on the different features of digital hearing aids in everyday contexts.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
3DTI will adopt a participatory-design process involving relevant stakeholders (human factors experts, technology developers, hearing communities, end-users) to create a toolkit incorporating binaural audio and 3D visual rendering (Figure 2), and a series of game applications that can work on different target platforms (Windows, Mac, Android, iOs, Xbox, Play Station, etc.) to enable end users to explore, review, and customize hearing aid devices in different simulated everyday contexts.
INNOVATIONS AND CHALLENGES
The proposed work is particularly ambitious because it aims to redefine the way hearing aid devices are used by the hearing impaired population. The use of virtual reality and a gaming approach to calibration issues and tasks will transform the approach towards learning how to use hearing aid technologies and the sale of these technologies, and will allow small-medium enterprises (SMEs) to move into a novel non-leisure gaming market. The principal advancements of 3DTI can be summarized in two areas: the creation and implementation of 3D interactive multimodal simulations and the integration of a gaming approach to the demonstration and calibration of hearing aids.
CREATION AND IMPLEMENTATION
Currently, the assessment of a specific impairment and the calibration of a given assistive technology are performed under highly controlled laboratory conditions. For example, the effectiveness of a hearing aid is usually assessed on the patient in an anechoic environment with a single frontal loudspeaker. These conditions are far from realistic (e.g., a single speaker is very different from a complex auditory scene). Real-life conditions are difficult to control, though, and evaluations performed in the real world would not deliver consistent results. 3DTI can be considered as a median point between these two extremes, delivering realistic conditions in controllable and practicable environments, which facilitates the achievement of consistent and more reliable results in the calibration and demonstration of hearing aid devices.
A GAMING APPROACH
Several studies have shown the benefits of adopting gamification strategies in non-leisure environments (Dignan. 2011. Game Frame: Using Games as a Strategy for Success. NY: Free Press; McGonigal. 2011. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. NY: Penguin Group; Michael. 2011. Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform. Mason, OH: Course Technology). 3DTI will apply traditional gaming techniques and technologies to non-leisure use for the demonstration and calibration of hearing aid devices. These will be based on game logic and gameplay drawing on best practices from leisure and non-leisure market segments. The key elements will be clearly defined goals for the players, an effective reward system, an engaging storyline, and mechanisms to ensure an adequate level of competition.
THE PARTICIPATORY DESIGN PROCESS
A participatory design (PD) process will be adopted because it has been shown that the involvement of end-users in the design process generates information about how the end product will actually be used and puts it in a real world context (Haines. Ergonomics 2002;45:309-327 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00140130210123516?journalCode=terg20#.VrDPsrIrKUk). Neale et al. proposed using a toolbox of methods that can inform different aspects of design for stakeholders who may have different requirements for assistive technologies (“An inclusive design toolbox for development of educational Virtual Environments.” Presented at Include2003, Royal College of Art; 25-28 March). These include different types of PD activities with different combinations of stakeholder groups taking different roles (e.g., user, tester, informant, and design partner) at different stages of the design-development process.
THE 3DTI EVALUATION
The 3DTI technologies and applications will be evaluated for their effectiveness. The formative evaluation phase will test early concepts and prototypes through using questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, observation, and diary methods.
THE CONSORTIUM'S EXPERTISE
The 3D Tune-In partners are grouped by academic institutions (Imperial College London, De Montfort University, University of Nottingham and University of Malaga), SMEs (Reactify, Vianet, XTeam and Nerlaska), and a hearing aid manufacturer (GN Hearing).
All partners will work towards the creation of a 3D Tune-In Toolkit, which will comprise 3D audio and video engines, a haptic engine, hearing aid emulators, evaluation tools, human-computer interfaces, and game scenarios.
The human factors team will use their expertise in user-centred and participatory design methods to involve all stakeholders throughout the design, development, and evaluation of the 3DTI technologies to ensure they support learning and skill acquisition.
The hearing aid and hearing impaired communities will be deeply involved in the project to maximize the impact of the project outcomes. Additionally, five hearing and care associations are external collaborators to the consortium: Extra Care (http://www.extracare.org.uk), Hearing Link (http://www.hearinglink.org), Accesibilidad y Personas Sordas (http://www.fundacionaccesible.org/), Ente Nazionale Sordi (http://www.ens.it), and Action Deafness (http://www.actiondeafness.org.uk). Each of these companies has an active interest in supporting end-user activities in the project, such as design and evaluation.
3DTI will link the traditional gaming industry with the fast-growing game-based learning market and hearing device market. Together with academic institutions, the project will generate a set of non-leisure applications to benefit European citizens. For more information about the project, please visit http://www.3D-Tune-In.EU .
“This work was supported by the European Union's Horizon 2020 ICT work Programme under grant agreement No 644051.”