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Public figures need to protect their image. One bad video clip, news story, or snapshot can ruin an entire reputation. Because of this, it’s common practice for editors to covertly remove the unappealing elements of a picture. Sometimes it’s a zit, a shirt logo, or even an entire other person—but a hearing aid?

The latest, now famous, Photoshop job involved the deletion of a hearing aid from a recent photograph of 87-year old Fidel Castro. Presumably, his faithful photo manipulators don’t want the aging, once Cuban leader, to appear feeble.

Had Castro’s picture been taken just a few months later, he could have avoided the image editing gossip all together. Thanks to a developing “microsystem” technology, hearing aids will soon be more discreet than ever before.

Microsystems are sensing devices that exist within human-helping electronics like implants, pacemakers, insulin pumps, and invisible hearing aids. As their name suggests, they are tiny. But the WiserBAN project, based in the EU, is going one step smaller. They’re creating a microsystem with the miniature dimensions of just 4mm x 4mm x 1mm. That’s 50 times smaller than existing models. Such a small system allows for, essentially, invisible hearing aids.

Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions an American can have. In 2011, it was estimated that one in five Americans suffered from hearing loss. But even though it’s so widespread, visibility of hearing aids remains an issue. Like with Castro’s concern, it can make the wearer appear, or just feel, fragile and hindered. The presence of an aid can convey a message to onlookers that the wearer might not wish them to receive.

Along with hiding the aid from sight, WiserBAN’s device will make for a more comfortable wear and will require significantly less energy. Normal hearing aids (those worn behind the ear) require an 180mAh battery that needs to be replaced or recharged about every other week. But the WiserBAN team is eager to discover how energy efficient they can make their new device. They want to create a microsystem that runs on a single miliwatt that can run up to 20 weeks.

If you scroll through the hearing aids on the Audicus website, you might see some similar, invisible hearing aids. Audicus offers aids that are invisible to onlookers—because whether you’re leading a nation, you’re the captain of a team, or you’re the new kid at school, sometimes you just want people to see you, before they see your aid.

by Becca Cudmore