'What's Your Favourite Innovation?' With Emi

Last week, the Catalyst team took part in the exciting new TV show being produced by Sussex Innovation (coming soon!). We had to answer different questions surrounding the topic of innovation. One of the questions was “What is your favourite innovation and why?”


This seemed like an easy question at first, but with so many amazing innovations to choose from, we quickly realized how difficult it was to choose just one innovation. As we started brainstorming and discussing, we talked about a variety of innovations. This ranged from innovations that have completely changed the world such as the printing press, to those that have made the world a better place such as medical innovations with prosthetics and innovations that make our day-to-day activities easier and more efficient such as freezer bags and washing machines.

As I was thinking of my answer, I was trying to think of something more personal and that was when I came up with my answer; hearing aids. This might not be the first answer that most come up with, but for me it’s a personal matter as I use them.


I was born with a hearing impairment condition that causes the degeneration of the hearing nerve. It is a genetic condition that has affected my mother’s side of the family where herself, my aunt, my grandmother and I all use hearing aids. This amazing innovation has drastically changed the lives of my family and I, in helping us hear better. This quickly got me thinking about the development and history of hearing aids; who created it and where did it all start?

Here’s a brief timeline of hearing aids:


  • 17th – 18th century: The invention of the ear trumpet. Although this wasn’t considered a ‘hearing device’, it was still the first device to help those with hearing loss. The devices were then later commercially produced by Frederick C. Rein in the late 18th century.

  • 1898: The Akouphone was created by Miller Reese Hutchison and was the first electric and portable hearing aid. This device used an electric current to amplify weak signals. This technology was used thanks to another invention, the telephone, invented by Alexander Graham in 1876.

  • 1913 - 1920: The first commercially manufactured hearing aids came to market in 1913. The vacuum-tube hearing aids were invented in 1920, they worked by using speech and turning it into electric signals which then got amplified.


  • 1948: One of the many technological advances brought by WWII was miniaturization and helping create ‘the Transistor’. This enabled the new hearing devices to be smaller, more battery efficient and have less distortion.


  • 1970s: New innovations include the microprocessor and multi-channel amplitude compression. Both features helping in further developing and improving hearing aid devices.


  • 1980s- 90s: High-speed processors and microcomputers were created and in 1990s, Nicolet Corporation brought the first all-digital hearing aids to market

And now, the 21st Century. It goes without saying that nowadays, the hearing aids devices are of optimal quality, helping people hear the best and most they’ve ever been able to hear. Once again, other innovations have been incorporated to make the devices better, such as Bluetooth connection and rechargeable batteries. There is now a huge variety of hearing aids, all able to address different needs with increasingly new features being added, such as effective ambient noise control, suppression, and isolation. So, there you have it, after reflecting into the fascinating history and developments of hearing aids, this is a prime example of how innovation can evolve over the years to truly change people’s lives positively.

And so I'll ask you the same question; what’s your favourite innovation and why? How has this innovation evolved over the years, and how do you think it can improve in the years ahead? – More so, how can you be a part of the numerous varied innovations that are still to be unveiled?

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