Meet the 16-yr-old Indian-American student who has invented a low-cost hearing aid – Mukund Venkatakrishnan’s Story

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Mukund Venkatakrishnan

A 16-year-old Indian-American student has created a low-cost hearing aid costing merely USD 60 to help those who cannot afford expensive hearing devices.

When Mukund Venkatakrishnan of Kentuckys Louisville city visited India, he was tasked with helping his grandfather get tested and fitted for a hearing aid. During the doctor visits, he saw what a costly and difficult process it was. He resolved to find an alternative.

“Since audiologists are specialists, even finding and getting an appointment with one in India was really hard,” said Mukund.

Mukund said they spent about $400 or $500 on doctor’s appointments and about $1,900 on the hearing aid itself. “We got ripped off” he said

He was 14 when he started working on the device. It took him 2 years to get the device ready. He recently presented it at the Jefferson County Public Schools Idea Fest and won first place at the Kentucky State Science and Engineering Fair.

Working with the doctors, he conducted tests on patients with hearing loss to make sure his device was accurate.

“Really I started online. I looked up ‘how to program’ online and taught myself how to program,” he said.

The device is built to first; test hearing by playing several different sounds at seven different frequencies through headphones. It then programs itself to be a hearing aid, amplifying volume based on the test results.

It only costs about $50 to make and can be used with even the cheapest set of headphones.

Unlike with traditional hearing aids, if the ear piece gets damaged it isn’t costly to replace — you just buy another set of ear buds.

In its current form, the device is about two inches and looks like a computer processor. Venkatakrishnan is planning to bring it down to about one inch and encase the operating system. He envisions the device, which has a standard headphone port, fitting into someone’s pocket.

“It eliminates the need for a doctor altogether,” Mukund was quoted as saying. “It’s really, in essence, just amplifiers, just increase the volume based on how much hearing loss you have and it’s crazy that they cost $1,500 each, when you can do it for $60.”

He spent hours a day working at FirstBuild, near the University of Louisville campus. Even when the building was closing, Mukund would continue working into the night, weekdays and weekends, whatever it took to complete the device.

“I’m kinda surprised it turned out OK,” Mukund said reported Wave. “It’s hard to like, see something like this working. I wanted to quit a lot of times in the middle. Everything was going wrong all the time. You never knew if something was going to work or not.”

But he didn’t quit. And that’s because his motivation goes deeper his natural drive and persistence. He visited his grandfather two years ago in India and learned he was suffering from hearing loss.

While Venkatakrishnan is eager to make a difference, he isn’t trying to make money off his invention.

He’s adamant that the audio software remain open source so other developers can modify and tweak it.

His goal is to distribute the device to people with hearing loss who can not afford a USD 1,000 hearing aid. Various foundations are reaching out to Mukund to help mass produce and distribute it.

Mukund said that he would visit his grandfather in Bangalore, India this summer and deliver the hearing aid.

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