February 6, 2014


I have mentioned before how poor my sight is, and this is especially true when compared to my sense of hearing. I rely on my hearing a lot, and sometimes even find it easier to focus in on a conversation when I merely close my eyes and focus entirely on my sense of hearing. Unfortunately, this has the side effect of making me seem bored or worse, asleep. As my sight grows worse and worse over the years, I am likely going to rely more and more on my hearing to carry me through life. A scary notion, to be sure, but one many people have had to face before and have overcome.

I sometimes wonder if my reliance and personal focus on my hearing is partially due to my love of music. It is unlikely that this is wholly true, but it is likely a factor. If so, who knows? In the future, that love of wonderful and whimsical sound may help me to overcome any disability a further reduction or loss of sight might cause me as there is currently work on a new technology that allows the blind to see, somewhat, through sound.

No, I am not talking about echolocation. I am talking about EyeMusic, a new Sensory Substitution Device (SSD) created at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that allows patients to identify a variety of basic shapes and colors through sound. Developed by Professor Amir Amedi, PhD, and his team, the EyeMusic is able to scan an image and use musical pitch to inform the user of the location and color of the pixels. Timing is the basic method of communicating the horizontal position. Notes played at the opening represent the left side while notes closer to the later sequence represent the right. The higher the picture is on the vertical plane, the higher the pitch. Finally, color is transmitted via various musical instruments. If the picture is white it uses vocals. Blue uses trumpets. Red is represented by a reggae organ (interesting choice). Green by synthesized reed (also interesting), Yellow is portrayed by violin. Finally, black is represented by silence. This device is said to be easy to use and understand, with as little as two to three hours of training needed for basic, simple comprehension. More importantly, while the EyeMusic is not the first SSD, few others are widely used among the blind and hard-of-hearing community as they are often cumbersome and unpleasant. The EyeMusic, on the other hand, was said to be much more pleasant and tolerable enough for prolonged use. While it would certainly take some time to get used to before being able to reliably use the device for interpretation, it is certainly a remarkable breakthrough in non-restorative visual technology.

Sight through music. Will wonders never cease?

No, I honestly do not think they ever will. As long as people continue finding creative new solutions, there will always be something new and remarkable on the horizon.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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