For The Record with Achin Bhowmik, Ph.D. – Starkey Hearing Technologies CTO and Executive VP of Engineering

Dr. Achin Bhowmik is the chief technology officer and executive vice president of engineering at Starkey Hearing Technologies, a privately-held medical devices business with more than 5,000 employees and operations in more than 100 countries worldwide. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing the company’s technology, product development and engineering departments, and is leading the drive to redefine medical wearable devices with advanced sensors and artificial intelligence technologies.

Prior to joining Starkey, Dr. Bhowmik was vice president and general manager of the Perceptual Computing Group at Intel Corporation. There, he was responsible for the R&D, engineering, operations, and businesses in the areas of 3D sensing and interactive computing, computer vision and artificial intelligence, autonomous robots and drones, and immersive virtual and merged reality devices. Previously, he served as the chief of staff of the Personal Computing Group, Intel’s largest business unit with >$30B annual revenues in 2010.

As an adjunct professor and guest lecturer, Dr. Bhowmik advises graduate research and teaches courses on human-computer interactions and perceptual computing technologies at the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, Liquid Crystal Institute of the Kent State University, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, and the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar. 

Dr. Bhowmik was elected a Fellow of the Society for Information Display (SID). He serves on the board of advisors for the Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership at UC Berkeley, the executive board for SID, and the board of directors for OpenCV. He also serves on the board of directors and advisors for several technology startup companies. He received the Industrial Distinguished Leader Award from the Asia-Pacific Signal and Information Processing Association. He has over 200 publications, including two books and 34 issued patents.

What is Healthable™ hearing technology and why is it important?

It’s an exciting time to be part of the hearing health industry. Healthable hearing technology refers to a revolution of the industry, the catalyst being the launch of our newest product, Livio® AI, a Healthable hearing aid.

Livio AI is the world’s first hearing aid with integrated sensors and artificial intelligence. First and foremost, it is our best sounding and best performing hearing aid ever! In this day and age, consumers expect so much more from their technology devices than just fulfilling a single purpose. Your phone, for example, is no longer just your technology tool to place a phone call. Your phone is your GPS, it’s your high-resolution camera, and it’s your connected internet device.

When we created Livio AI, we knew that it would be the first of its kind – a Healthable – a brand-new category of hearing aid. Livio AI is a multi-purpose device that serves as a gateway to wellness for the wearer. It is not only the best sounding hearing aid, as the first hearing aid with integrated sensors and artificial intelligence, but it also allows the wearer to take a proactive approach to their health. Hearing aids have traditionally been a single-purpose device: They have been a device used to amplify sound. Livio AI changes all of that.

AI gets a lot of hype; it seems Starkey is applying AI in real, useful ways. How does AI change what you can provide hearing aid users?

At Starkey Hearing Technologies, our mission is to help people hear better and live better. We know hearing loss is connected to a number of significant health issues, including dementia, depression, and cardiovascular disease. Livio AI goes beyond better hearing as the first device to ever track physical activity and cognitive health as measured by hearing aid use in social situations.

The integrated 3D motion sensors inside Livio AI enable the hearing aids to detect movement, track activities, and recognize gestures. The hearing aids communicate with each other and Livio AI’s ecosystem of compatible mobile accessories to deliver meaningful, real-time feedback about users’ overall body and cognitive health and fitness.

Adding sensors to the device helps it imitate the human perceptual system. Using embedded 3D sensors, Livio AI is able to replicate the human vestibular system, which is responsible for balance and spatial orientation. It uses artificial intelligence to enable the hearing aids to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.

This cutting-edge technology allows people to take a proactive and personal approach to treating hearing loss, which has been linked to various health issues including dementia, cognitive decline, anxiety, stress, social isolation and an increased risk of falling.

At the end of February, Livio AI will include multiple additional groundbreaking advancements, powered by artificial intelligence and integrated sensors. The device will include fall detection and alert. Fall alert is able to automatically identify if the user falls, and send alert messages to a selected number of contacts. We incorporated significant new inventions to avoid false-positives and flag only true falls. We are thrilled to be able to use technology to give millions of people, their families, and caregivers peace of mind.

You came from one of the world’s great technology companies, Intel. What can the broader medical technology industry learn from an Intel?

I was at Intel for nearly 17 years and it is an incredible company. I was the vice president and general manager of the Perceptual Computing Group there, and I and was responsible for R&D, engineering, operations, and businesses in the areas of 3D sensing and interactive computing, computer vision and artificial intelligence, autonomous robots and drones, and immersive virtual and merged reality devices. There is a lot to be learned from Intel, especially the relentless drive for excellence which was famously (and figuratively) described by Andy Grove as “Only the Paranoid Survive,” instilling a hunger for making the impossible possible with advanced technology.

I’ve always been passionate about developing technologies such as sensors and artificial intelligence. My focus at Intel was to use these technologies to make more intelligent and autonomous machines, which was amazing. But Bill Austin came to me with a unique opportunity, “Do you want to use the same technology — instead of focusing on making more intelligent and smarter machines — to help people perceive and understand the world better?” I knew then that it was time to start a new chapter in my career and I’m grateful to have had my experiences and knowledge from Intel to now allow me to help more people lead better, more fulfilled lives.

Starkey has incorporated a number of consumer-facing technologies, like a virtual assistant, into the Livio AI. What does the consumer industry bring to the table that the med tech industry can learn?

One of our biggest challenges as a technology company within the hearing industry is the stigma surrounding hearing aids. What better place is there to put technology that appeals to consumers on a mass level than in a device that can improve so many lives? That is what brought me to Starkey – the opportunity to use technology to make a positive impact on humans, on society. According to the World Health Organization, 466 million people are in need of hearing aids around the world, yet only about 15 to 16 million hearing aids are sold each year. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding hearing aids, and that stigma is real and widespread. The average user waits seven years to get the hearing help that they need. Our hope is that by making the hearing aid a multi-purpose device with cutting-edge technology and features, we can help consumers get past the stigma and start living better, longer, healthier lives. We are excited about the amazing virtual assistant feature built into the upcoming release of Livio AI, which brings the world of information to the user with an intuitive interface.

And what can consumer-facing companies learn from companies like Starkey?

Our mission and the roots that it has through every facet of our company is what makes us unique. We strive to be much more than a hearing aid manufacturer; we are in the business of connecting people and changing their lives for the better. We believe that being able to hear the world and the people around you is essential to the human experience. We have been in business for over 50 years and we have always focused on the patient – we create patient-focused technology to provide the best hearing aids that enable speech in quiet and speech in noise to be heard. That will always be first in our DNA, our patients and our mission – it is central for us to help people hear better and live better.

What’s next?

We are just getting started! The possibilities of what a hearing aid can do for the wearer are endless. We will continue to break down the stigma around hearing aids, and we will continue to make the impossible possible and create ground-breaking technology that will help our patients live better, more fulfilled lives. We will continue to focus on our patients and stay true to our mission, and that is why I am so excited to be part of Starkey and the revolution we have started.

For more information on Starkey Hearing Technologies visit Starkey.com

Welcome to Medical Alley Association’s For The Record interview series, brought to you by West Monroe Partners. Join us as we sit down with innovators in the delivery, payment, technology, and policy industries, giving us – and in turn, you – access to diverse perspectives on how healthcare is changing and what lies ahead.

Medical Alley is the global epicenter of health innovation and care; For The Record, is meant to share insights and spark discussion. If you have a perspective on the future of healthcare, feel free to share it by reaching out to Frank Jaskulke, Vice President of Intelligence at fjaskulke@medicalalley.org

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