A View from John Pavlus
Who Needs $450 Electronically Enhanced Earplugs?
Etymotic’s BlastPLG earplugs are designed to safeguard troops from long-term hearing damage without compromising their “situational awareness.”
Just because they snuff out gunshots doesn’t mean they’ll work on your partner’s snoring.
Remember that scene in Black Hawk Down where a soldier literally goes deaf because his buddy is shooting a giant machine gun right next to his head? The movie played it for laughs, but military hearing loss is no joke. According to high-end audio company Etymotic Research, “an alarmingly high percentage of deployed soldiers” sustain permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.
Earplugs are the obvious solution, but you can’t exactly stay frosty on patrol when you’ve got foam jammed in your ears blocking everything out. Etymotic’s EB15 BlastPLG earplugs attempt to square the circle by electronically attentuating sudden blast sounds while letting normal decibel levels through – or even enhancing them.
The $450 price tag makes sense when you consider that the EB15 is a state of the art hearing aid and earplug at the same time. “Adaptive attentuation” circuitry detects incoming impulse noise like gunfire and RPG explosions and electronically morphs into a 15-dB earplug before your eardrum takes a beating. It does the same thing if ambient noise rises to a damaging level for a sustained amount of time. Otherwise, the EB15 lets the user hear well enough to detect sounds normally and pinpoint their locations, or even boost the signal for enhanced situational awareness.
Etymotic’s BlastPLG earplugs won an Innovation award at the upcoming 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. No word yet on whether they work well against snoring spouses or shrieking toddlers.