Protecting smartphone users from hearing loss
We helped the team behind HearAngel secure the six-figure investment it needed to build its pioneering beta app
The next time you get on a bus or train, look around at how many people are using headphones. The proliferation of smartphones is one of the main drivers behind this boom in their use. Having entertainment on-tap is great, but according to the World Health Organisation, listening to loud music through headphones is one of the biggest dangers to our hearing – so-called ‘noise-induced hearing loss’.
LimitEar’s hearing-protection hardware has long been used by employers to protect staff who use headphones in the workplace. It now wanted to make the technology more widely available by creating a smartphone app, HearAngel.
A pioneering approach to smartphone hearing-safeguarding HearAngel would need to improve dramatically on the simple volume warnings built into some phones. It would monitor how loud you listen, how long you listen for and, crucially, the energy content of what you listen to. Following some sophisticated processing, it would then tell you when you’ve reached your daily safe sound dose, and manage the volume to protect you if you wish. This level of complexity is normally achieved in a laboratory, but had never been achieved in an app, so HearAngel would be breaking new ground.
LimitEar successfully pitched HearAngel to our Technology Incubator programme. We started by creating a prototype of HearAngel that LimitEar could show potential investors. We also supported the company as it pitched for funds, talking investors through the technical feasibility of the proposals.
Securing investment to unlock the next stage of the journey
This enabled LimitEar to secure the £150K investment it needed to build a beta app to launch on the Google Play store. Having a fully functioning app would prove the concept and give LimitEar a compelling proposition to take to potential customers.
The next steps
We shaped, built and launched the HearAngel app on Google Play
With the investment secured, we ran user research sessions to shape the details of the app. This revealed two main uses: one for adults to protect their own hearing, and another to help parents safeguard their children’s hearing. We then set about creating the ‘dose engine’ – the core part of the app that calculates when your safe daily allowance has been reached. Using sophisticated algorithms, we made sure the app collected the correct sound signals and processed them in the right way, without major impact on battery life.
We created an easy-to-understand dashboard to show people how much of their daily sound dosage they’d used, and set up the ability for the app to automatically limit sound output.
After just six weeks’ effort, we launched the app on Google Play.
HearAngel has impressed phone-makers, hearing-protection specialists, the NHS and the Secretary of State for Health.
Having a fully working app that potential customers can try for themselves has been transformational for HearAngel.
It has led to conversations with phone manufacturers, headphone makers, hearing-protection charities and healthcare data firms. It has also got the attention of the NHS, after it was demonstrated to the Secretary of State for Health.
Consequently, discussions are ongoing about trialling HearAngel within the NHS as part of a national youth hearing safeguarding programme.
Stephen Wheatley, co-founder and managing director of HearAngel, explains the important role Softwire played in taking the app from idea to reality: “Getting into the Softwire incubator was very important – it was a gold star that helped early-on to demonstrate our credibility.
“The team at Softwire was also very accommodating when we needed to raise money. We arranged for our investors to come to Softwire. Investors asked any questions they wanted to, and Softwire were hugely credible and very supportive of what we were looking to achieve. We’re hugely grateful to Softwire for helping us get to this point and look forward to continuing to work with them as we prepare HearAngel for production use.”