Vest project: receiving acoustic information by a person with hearing impairment through vibration

    Currently, technology has gone so far as to allow hearing to be returned even to people whose hearing aids / auditory nerves are damaged. Not so long ago, special prostheses were created that deliver electrical signals to the human brain, bypassing damaged auditory nerves.

    True, the installation of such a prosthesis requires invasive neurosurgery. In addition, the cost of an invasive auditory prosthesis + surgery is approximately 40 thousand US dollars. It is clear that not everyone with hearing problems can afford this.

    Nevertheless, the other day an interesting project was announced, which allows in the literal sense of the word to perceive sounds with the whole body (more precisely, with the torso).

    The system, proposed by neurobiologist Dr. David Eagleman, David Eagleman and his graduate student Scott Novich, is a vest with tactile response modules equipped with miniature vibration motors.

    The system connects to the microphone. The sound is converted by a microphone (now scientists use a smartphone) into electrical signals that, through special microcontrollers, are fed to the vibration modules of the vest and start the operation of the vibration motors. Depending on the strength of sound, frequency, tonality, vibration modules work differently.

    Of course, putting on such a vest, a person will not understand what and why he hears, it will be just a chaotic vibration. But scientists also developed a two-week training course, after which the human brain begins to perceive such vibrations already "meaningfully." In this case, a person begins to directly “hear” the body.

    Sound is captured and processed on a smartphone.  The data is then sent over BlueTooth and played in real-time using a series of vibration motors on on a wearable vest.

    The system and the idea of ​​the project itself may seem a little strange, but scientists say that such a system is quite real, since the human brain does not "hear" in the direct sense of the word. The brain receives an electric signal of a certain type from the organs of hearing, analyzes them, and after that we begin to hear a certain sound. The vibration felt by the body also provokes the appearance of an electrical signal that enters the brain. And after some training, the brain begins to perceive signals such as sound. Of course, there is some difference, but experiments have already shown that a person, after training, really begins to hear with his whole body.

    Now scientists have launched a project on Kickstarter, in order to raise money for a more advanced prototype of the Vest system (Vibrotactile Extra-Sensory Transducer).

    By the way, they are already thinking about how to help people with normal hearing with the help of such a project begin to perceive additional information through signals perceived by the body. For example, it can be exchange information, or news broadcast in one way or another from the Web to a system like Vest. While this is only a hypothesis, but scientists will try to create a working prototype with a training system for the perception of such information.

    It sounds, of course, unusual, but studies have already been conducted in the world that prove the possibility of replacing missing senses with other signals. There are also people who perceive information differently than everyone else. Some mathematical geeks (people-counters) during complex calculations can smell, taste, music or various colors, the combination of which gives the desired result. The human brain is a very complex tool, it will be studied for many decades to come, during which it will give out more and more secrets about its work.

    Our results from a word identification experiment demonstrate that participants (hearing participants, in this case) can learn to interpret sound with the vest.

    And Vest is one of the projects helping to use some features of the human brain and nervous system in favor of the latter. The project has a video on the same Kickstarter, you can’t insert it here, the code cuts the Habraparser, so you can watch it bythis link .

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