Today’s Irish Independent has an interesting article about a revolutionary new device that helps the blind “see through sounds”. The vOICe sensory substitution device trains the brain to turn sounds into images, allowing people to create a picture of the things around them. Researchers at the University of Bath say The vOICe could be used as an alternative to invasive treatment for blind and partially sighted people.
The latest synthetic vision technology allows you to see with your ears and is turning our understanding of the senses upside down.
Claire Cheskin used to love in a murky world of grey, her damaged eyes only seeing large objects if they were right next to her. She could detect the outlines of people but not their expressions, and could just about make out the silhouettes of buildings, but no details.
Nowadays things are looking distinctly brighter for Cheskin. Using the vOICe, which translates visual images into “soundscapes”, she has trained her brain to “see through her ears”. When travelling, the device helps her identify points of interest; at home she uses it to find things she has put down, like coffee cups. ”
As if the signposting of objects wasn’t impressive and useful enough, some long-term users of the device like Cheskin eventually report complete images somewhat akin to normal sight, thanks to a long-term rewiring of their brains. Sometimes these changes are so profound that it alters their perceptions even when they aren’t using the device.
As such, the vOICe (the “OIC” standing for “Oh, I See”) is now proving invaluable as a research tool, providing insights into the brain’s mind-boggling capacity for adaptation.
A team from the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology asked blindfolded, sighted participants to use the device while taking an eye test. Results showed the participants – even without any training with the device – were able to achieve the best performance possible.
Dr Michael Proulx, who led the University of Bath team, said: “This level of visual performance exceeds that of the invasive technique for vision restoration, such as stem cell implants and retinal prostheses after extensive training.
“The affordable and non-invasive nature of The vOICE provides another option. Sensory substitution devices are not only an alternative, but might also be best employed in combination with such invasive techniques to train the brain to see again or for the first time.”
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