For anyone unfamiliar with hearing aids, know that they require a great deal of two things: money and batteries. Luckily, one humanitarian project aims to make the medical devices much cheaper and more eco-friendly. Solar Ear, a Brazil-based company, creates low-cost hearing aids that get their juice from solar-powered batteries. Not only are the devices much more affordable than traditional hearing aids, they decreases reliance on fossil fuel-based power and seriously cut back on battery waste.

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Solar Ear creator Howard Weinstein designed the digital hearing aid to rely on two rechargeable AA batteries. Users simply place the batteries inside a palm-sized solar charger, and after about six-to-eight hours the unit is fully juiced. The batteries then charge the hearing aid, which fits neatly inside the ear. Batteries typically retain power for about one week before needing a boost of sunlight again. In addition to deriving their power from a clean, renewable resource, the batteries boast a two-to-three-year lifespan; traditional hearing aid batteries need to be replaced weekly.

While Solar Ear is certainly good news for the earth, it also offers a huge advantage for impoverished people. The device’s solar element means even those without access to electricity can use hearing aids, and its low price tag (about $100) is good news for the poor and/or uninsured. The company’s operations also create jobs for members of the deaf community: all of the employees that work on Solar Ear’s devices are deaf. Plus, the actual product itself is not patented, meaning other companies could adopt Solar Ear’s design and manufacture a similar green, low-cost hearing aid.

The innovative device was designated as a Tech Award Laureate and currently can be found in Brazil, Botswana, and Palestine’s West Bank, but Solar Ear expects to expand into Mexico, China, India and Canada in 2010. And now that designers have shown that eco-friendly elements can successfully be implemented into hearing aids, we’re excited to see what other green and low-cost medical devices will emerge in 2010.

+ Solar Ear

Via Planet Green