It’s not every day that you see a potentially life changing medical gadget find its inspiration in video games. But those are the origins of Max Virtual, a Delaware company which recently launched its latest product, the Cynaps Enhance, on Indiegogo. The Cynaps Enhance is a full hearing enhancement system in a baseball cap: dual microphones are built into the bill to pick up sound and provide location awareness, and bone conduction transducers in the cap transmit sound from the microphones or a Bluetooth source directly to the inner ear, bypassing the eardrum and outer ear. We recently had the opportunity to ask CEO Mike Freeman more about his company, the Cynaps Enhance device, and the role he wants Max Virtual to have in the future of assistive hearing.
Scott Jung, Medgadget: How did you originally come up with the idea for Cynaps?
Mike Freeman: When we started the company a couple years ago, we were developing a complex virtual reality gaming suit which would incorporate, among several other things, vibration as feedback from PC games. We used transducers to generate this vibration and found that the sound was especially clear when the transducers were placed anywhere on the head. This led to the creation of the original Cynaps, a much more simple device that can be used by almost anyone, anywhere to make their lives safer and easier.
Medgadget: You’ve taken a somewhat unique approach to positioning the Cynaps Enhance as an experimental, “hacker-friendly” device with a public launch on Indiegogo. What prompted you to go this route? What kind of feedback and general issues do you hope that the public will help you address?
Freeman: As we began developing the first Cynaps Enhance prototypes several months ago, we were a little unsure of exactly how we wanted to bring it to market. When we ran across the Scanadu Scout campaign on Indiegogo this past month, we thought their approach was a brilliant idea and decided to take a very similar approach.
Our first Indiegogo campaign, where we offered the original Cynaps, the first Bluetooth enabled, bone conduction headset in a hat, gave us a tremendous amount of feedback and enabled us to make Version 2 better and in a shorter time frame. By offering the product as experimental on Indiegogo, we have two main goals: 1. quickly accumulate a wide range of data that can be used to improve the device and 2. give a unique opportunity to those who would not ordinarily be able to afford or qualify for surgery a chance to hear better. The price of a BAHA implant with surgery is around $4,000, and many insurance plans do not cover this type of surgery in full, if at all. We feel that our project may be able to quickly give a lot of people something most of us take for granted every day: the ability to hear.
[Editor’s note: Since our interview, Max Virtual has announced that for every
$5,000 contributed to the campaign, they will personally be working with an active or retired member of the US armed forces who has lost hearing in the line of duty and use the Enhance to help restore their hearing.$3000 contributed to the campaign, they will make a small cap or band with Cynaps Enhance and use it to restore hearing for one child who otherwise would have absolutely no chance to hear due to financial difficulties.]
We hope to get a wide range of feedback from the public, such as any negative effects they may experience, any positive effects they would like for us to further improve on and suggestions as to how the aesthetics of the product could be improved upon.
Medgadget: What benefits will there be when the Cynaps Enhance receives FDA approval?
Freeman: We plan to make future versions of Cynaps Enhance programmable, so that hearing specialists may integrate it with existing software used to test both the device and the patient; and be able to finely tune the audio settings in each device to suit each patient’s specific needs.
Medgadget: Where do you see the future of assistive hearing devices and hearing aids heading?
Freeman: There is a large group of the population who are hearing impaired but cannot afford the high cost associated with hearing enhancement devices. I believe this problem will be gradually addressed in the form of increasing availability of high quality devices at lower costs. We hope to play a significant role in this trend.
Medgadget: How about those potential users who don’t find baseball caps to be their style? Will we ever perhaps see a Cynaps Enhance visor or fedora?
Freeman: Yes, in fact, this will be possible during the coming campaign. On our site, we already offer a self-install kit version of our ‘Cynaps Connect’ (the original Bluetooth enabled version) which can be installed into any hat. We also offer a similar self-install kit for Cynaps Enhance as part of the Indiegogo campaign.
Take a look at the video for Max Virtual’s Cynapse Enhance campaign:
Indiegogo Campaign: The Cynaps Enhance Hearing Restoration Project…
More info from Max Virtual: Cynaps Enhance…