Vest Translates Touch Into Sound for Hearing Impaired

VEST works like a cochlear implant to use vibrations to transmit sound to the brain.
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VEST works like a cochlear implant to use vibrations to transmit sound to the brain.
vest

Photo Credit: Eagleman Laboratory

Wearable technology is generally purposed to make our lives a little easier by monitoring our fitness progress or helping us screen our calls. This new wearable would go far beyond convenience, though. It could actually help the hearing impaired restore their sense of sound.

The Versatile Extra-Sensory Transducer (or VEST) has a mission of wanting to make deaf people hear again. It's designed by Dr. David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Using sensory substitution, the idea is that data can be gathered by the brain using one sense, and then transferred to another sense. In the case of VEST, touch is translated into sound.

VEST uses a smartphone app, which picks up on sound signals. The app will then send those signals to the VEST through Bluetooth. The wearable technology then performs what is called "sound-to-touch mapping," which translates the sound into a series of vibrations that can be interpreted by the wearer.

The Daily Dot notes that the VEST technology is similar to that of a cochlear implant, which also translates sounds into vibrations. However, Eagleman says these implants can cost about 20 times as much as the VEST could (which is expected to be priced at around $2,000). Not to mention that a cochlear implant requires invasive surgery.

“This sensory substitution project will be the highest throughput example of sensory substitution to date,” graduate student Scott Novich said. “We’re really pushing the limits in terms of how much information we can send through the human body.”

If all goes as planned, VEST could completely change the world's understanding of how the brain processes sensory information. This could lead, Eagleman says, to wearable technology that uses vibrations to transmit data from tweets or even stock tips.

See a demonstration of VEST in the video below. 

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