EarSwitch wins grant to develop hearing aids for inclusive medical monitoring

EarSwitch has been awarded the UKRI Healthy Ageing Challenge Grant. The grant will enable EarSwitch to develop its EarMetrics product, initially for the UK’s diverse and ageing population. EarMetrics aims to provide an in-ear sensor for standard hearing aids to measure temperature, heart rate, pulse, and blood oxygen levels and a medical first: continuous blood pressure monitoring.

Over 70% of over 70s wear hearing aids. By augmenting hearing aid technology, doctors, care professionals and hospitals will be able to access a richer stream of medical data using a non-intrusive method. It will also provide more readily available information, allowing medical professionals to offer proactive support within virtual wards, and older people to live healthier and more independent lives.

This is particularly valuable for some members of the ageing population, who may be reticent to trial new wearable devices, but are happy to wear hearing aids.

With the grant and matched investment totalling £1 million, led by Newable Ventures and Britbots, EarSwitch will integrate, test and trial EarMetrics in industry-standard hearing aids.

While in-ear wearables for fitness monitoring do exist, there are significant issues with the technology. Some rely on stable contact of the sensor with the ear canal wall and pose the risk of discomfort and interference from the movement of the jaw during chewing and speaking. EarMetrics aims to fit seamlessly into the ear canal, mitigating these risks.

As well as supporting care for the older population, EarSwitch is driven by inclusion. Standard medical monitoring devices like finger-clip pulse oximeters have been reported to take inaccurate readings for people with darker skin. During the COVID-19 pandemic this inaccuracy could have meant diverse patients were refused anti-viral or oxygen treatment. EarMetrics removes this barrier, taking measurements from an unpigmented part of the ear.

Through a successful seed investment, EarSwitch has already demonstrated pulse oximetry using its technology. This has been developed further with a UKRI Biomedical Catalyst grant-funded project, working with the Health Tech Hub, at the University of the West of England. Using its new funding, EarSwitch will look to incorporate three sensor types into a hearing aid mould. These output standard measures for heart rate, pulse waveform, breathing rate, central oxygen saturations and the first in-ear demonstration of ‘cuffless’ blood pressure alternatives.

In partnership with Innovate UK, the grant and match investments totalling over £1 million, will help the company accelerate development and expand its Bristol-based team, employing new developers and operational staff. EarSwitch’s development to date has been funded by NIHR, working with University of Bath.

Speaking on its investment, Dominic Keen, Managing Director at Britbots said: "I'm delighted that Earswitch has won a UKRI Healthy Ageing Grant, which will mean that earphones and earbuds become even smarter. EarSwitch's fast-growing intellectual property portfolio is opening a new frontier in wearable computing with massive forthcoming potential for digital health and productivity applications."

Nick Gompertz, Founder of EarSwitch commented: “Being awarded the UKRI Healthy Ageing Grant will transform our company. I started EarSwitch as a GP with a vision to revolutionise the way people living with neurological conditions interact with the world, through the power of the ear.

“Now, we’re hoping to find a way for medical monitoring for Virtual Wards and care environments to be simple, cost-effective and efficient. By giving people who wear hearing aids, access to technology like ours, we believe we can reduce digital inequality, improve care in the community and help hospital-at-home reduce congestion in hospital and care settings.”