Can the blind ‘hear; colors, shapes? Yes, show researchers

What if you could “hear” colors? Or shapes? These features are normally perceived visually, but using sensory substitution devices (SSDs) they can now be conveyed to the brain noninvasively through other senses.At the Center for Human Perception and Cognition, headed by Prof. Amir Amedi of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences and the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Medicine, the blind and visually impaired are being offered tools, via training with SSDs, to receive environmental visual information and interact with it in ways otherwise unimaginable. The work of Prof. Amedi and his colleagues is patented by Yissum, the Hebrew University’s Technology Transfer CompanySSDs are non-invasive sensory aids that provide visual information to the blind via their existing senses. For example, using a visual-to-auditory SSD in a clinical or everyday setting, users wear a miniature camera connected to a small computer (or smart phone) and stereo headphones. The images are converted into “soundscapes,” using a predictable algorithm, allowing the user to listen to and then interpret the visual information coming from the camera.With the EyeMusic SSD (available free at the Apple App store at http://tinyurl.com/oe8d4p4), one hears pleasant musical notes to convey information about colors, shapes and location of objects in the world.Using this SSD equipment and a unique training program, the blind are able to achieve various complex. visual-linked abilities. In recent articles in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience and Scientific Reports, blind and blindfolded-sighted users of the EyeMusic were shown to correctly perceive and interact with objects, such as recognizing different shapes and colors or reaching for a beverage (A live demonstration can be seen at http://youtu.be/r6bz1pOEJWg).In another use of EyeMusic, it was shown that other fast and accurate movements can be guided by the EyeMusic and visuo-motor learning. …

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Eyemusic sensory substitution device enables the blind to ‘see’ colors and shapes

Using auditory or tactile stimulation, Sensory Substitution Devices (SSDs) provide representations of visual information and can help the blind “see” colors and shapes. SSDs scan images and transform the information into audio or touch signals that users are trained to understand, enabling them to recognize the image without seeing it.Currently SSDs are not widely used within the blind community because they can be cumbersome and unpleasant to use. However, a team of researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed the EyeMusic, a novel SSD that transmits shape and color information through a composition of pleasant musical tones, or “soundscapes.” A new study published in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience reports that using the EyeMusic SSD, both blind and blindfolded sighted participants were able to correctly identify a variety of basic shapes and colors after as little as 2-3 hours of training.Most SSDs do not have the ability to provide color information, and some of the tactile and auditory systems used are said to be unpleasant after prolonged use. The EyeMusic, developed by senior investigator Prof. Amir Amedi, PhD, and his team at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) and the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada at the Hebrew University, scans an image and uses musical pitch to represent the location of pixels. The higher the pixel on a vertical plane, the higher the pitch of the musical note associated with it. Timing is used to indicate horizontal pixel location. Notes played closer to the opening cue represent the left side of the image, while notes played later in the sequence represent the right side. Additionally, color information is conveyed by the use of different musical instruments to create the sounds: white (vocals), blue (trumpet), red (reggae organ), green (synthesized reed), yellow (violin); black is represented by silence.”This study is a demonstration of abilities showing that it is possible to encode the basic building blocks of shape using the EyeMusic,” explains Prof. Amir Amedi. …

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