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Study Teaches Blind to 'See' a Human Shape Using Sound


"...echolocation to 'see' using their ears."

People born blind rely on all their other senses to identity objects, but new research shows that in less than two weeks they could be taught to "see" a human shape, forming the image in their brain.

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The study by a team at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, published in the journal Current Biology, used technology that translated images into sound -- a soundscape. According to the researches, the soundscapes made of human shapes cause the brain's visual cortex to light up, specifically an area involved in recognizing the human form in people whose sight is not impaired.

"It's just like bats and dolphins use sounds and echolocation to 'see' using their ears," Amir Amedi, one of the study co-authors, said.

In about 70 hours, the study participants were not only able to recognize when a human form was before them, but they could identify the person's posture as well by imitating it on their own.

According to Wired, the study participants wore a camera that would translate what they were seeing into sound. The researchers taught them what certain sounds meant in terms of their shape. 

"Imagine for instance a diagonal line going down from left to right; if we use a descending musical scale—going on the piano from right to left—it will describe it nicely," co-author Ella Striem-Amit said. "And if the diagonal line is going up from left to right, then we use an ascending musical scale."

Wired reported that participants identified objects and patterns correctly using this technology 78 percent of the time.

The researchers hope this type of augmented reality could be used in therapy someday.

Until then, Amedi's lab last month released EyeMusic, an iPhone app, that allows people to "hear colors" and "hear shapes."

"The EyeMusic captures shapes and translates them into Soundscapes -- auditory representations of pictures. Colors are represented using different musical instruments, higher pixels of the image are translated into higher notes on a given musical instrument (i.e. higher pitches on the piano, trumpet or the violin) while lower pixels of the image are translated into lower notes on the same musical instruments and pixels closer to the left side of the image are heard before pixels closer to the right side of the picture -- thus enabling everyone to hear shapes and colors!" the app's description stated.

Featured image via Shutterstock.

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