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Improve your hearing with a new pair of glasses

New specs amplify sound directed at the person wearing them, while dampening background noise.

Thanks to a new pair of "hearing glasses," hearing-impaired people might both see and hear better--and have better social lives.

"What? Let me put my glasses on, I can't hear you." As odd as that phrase may sound, it might soon be common in the Netherlands. A novel pair of glasses recently released on the market not only improve bad eyesight, but also work as a hearing aid.

Developed by the Delft University of Technology and Dutch company Varibel, the glasses promise to keep hearing-impaired people active and social.

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While in-ear hearing aids usually work well for conversation in quiet surroundings, many people who wear them face problems in more lively environments. Since all incoming sounds are amplified, background noises easily take over, cause discomfort and make conversations difficult.

This problem can make people withdraw from parties and public places, cut down on socializing and even retire earlier than they wish. Varibel says its glasses can detect which direction sounds come from, amplifying words spoken directly to the wearer while dampening background noise.

The company's hearing glasses have four interconnected microphones embedded along both arms of the frame, each taking in sound. Signals are sent along the frame to a built-in processor, which localizes sounds by calculating the time it takes the signals to reach the different microphones. All sounds coming from the front of the carrier are intensified, while noise from other directions is dampened. This means that a person speaking to the carrier's face would be clearly heard even in noisy environments.

"This works surprisingly well. People can hear good and at the same time clearly--and especially in rooms such as in a cafe or at a birthday party," C.H.M. Stengs, ear nose and throat specialist at the Rijnstate Hospital in Arnhem, said in a press release. He said the hearing glasses have been shown to improve people's ability to understand speech.

The Varibel glasses will be rolled out in different colors and designs and will be powered by rechargeable batteries. They are currently only available in the Netherlands, but since they are developed in partnership with Philips Electronics, they may spread to other markets in the future.