Sensory Substitution Devices

(via EurekAlert) A Sensory Substitution Device (SSD) is a device that translates input of one sensory type (say, images) into output of another sensory type (say, sound).  These devices can be used to help people with limitations, like blindness, navigate the world more effectively.

EyeMusic, a company that makes these devices to convert visual input into sound, has been having a lot of success:

[EyeMusic's] study lends support to the hypothesis that representation of space in the brain may not be dependent on the modality with which the spatial information is received, and that very little training is required to create a representation of space without vision, using sounds to guide fast and accurate movements. "SSDs may have great potential to provide detailed spatial information for the visually impaired, allowing them to interact with their external environment and successfully make movements based on this information, but further research is now required to evaluate the use of our device in the blind " concludes Dr. Levy-Tzedek. These results demonstrate the potential application of the EyeMusic in performing everyday tasks – from accurately reaching for the red (but not the green!) apples in the produce aisle, to, perhaps one day, playing a Kinect / Xbox game.

This sounds like a huge step towards shifting blindness from a disability to a mere technical complication, requiring a prescription much the way that nearsightedness does.

There are sound samples of the EyeMusic's translations, and they're kind of jarring to listen to.  But I assume they're an early stage -- it might be much nicer by the time they actually reach market.  And either way, they offer a big enough life advantage to overcome some mild irritation.

I can also imagine some augment-style modifications with this technology.  If you adjusted them to receive a different band of wavelengths, then soldiers, for example, might be able to use their eyes for the visual spectrum, and hear in infrared.  Or, a Google Glass style display might be able to pick up a visual representation of brain waves, overlaid onto your visual field.

There's a lot of opportunity for some cool stuff concealed beneath the incredibly dense writing of the opening for the Sensory substitution Wikipedia page:

Sensory substitution means to transform the characteristics of one sensory modality into stimuli of another sensory modality. It is hoped that sensory substitution systems can help handicapped people by restoring their ability to perceive a certain defective sensory modality by using sensory information from a functioning sensory modality.