Sensory substitution systems are around you!

Maybe you are not aware of this fact, but you are using one of the oldest sensory substitution systems right now. You are reading - it means that you are using sight to acquire information which originally was presented as speech. Long time ago people could not write or read, they could only speak in order to communicate with each other. You actually shared their story during your lifetime. 

 

Do you like Matrix?

What if I tell you that you are an electronic device? OK, we can call you a bioelectronic device. I know what you are thinking right now "What the hell is he talking about?" but before you will kick your monitor let me ask you a question: 

Do you see with your eyes?


I am pretty sure that you answered: "Of course!" and maybe used some more words to describe how stupid the question is. I have another question then:

 

What happens when light enters your pupil and lands on your retina?

The easiest and extremely simplified answer I can give you is that your retinal cells react to light by sending tiny electrical impulses to your brain. In other words just behind the first row of your photosensitive cells in retina all of the information takes form of electricity. Your brain interprets those electrical signals and creates "images" from them. 

 

Specialized areas in your brain

Today scientists can investigate which part of the brain processes information acquired from different senses. There are areas in your brain specialized in processing of information sent from your eyes, ears, nose and even from your little finger. Some of those areas are called "visual cortex" or "auditory cortex". Makes sense right? 

 

Recent findings in neuroscience 

It seems that it is not as easy as we thought. Recent reseach shows that visual cortex in your brain can be activated by the information, which is send to you brain by your ears. 

 

What does it mean?

It means that when we develop reasonable sensory substitution devices (let's call them SSDs), then visually impaired people get a possibility to use the part of the brain which is called "visual cortex" for processing the information which is sent to their brains by other senses - for example their ears. 

 

Piece of cake? - Not really...
The first electronic sensory substitution device was developed by Noiszewski around 1897 and today after almost 120 years from the first invention, SSDs are not widely used by the visually impaired. One of the reasons is a difficulty in coding visual information by other senses. It is just too much information and it is not possible to code all of it in a way that could be interpreted at once. The other reason is that people do not know that these devices exist. We will try to help a bit there...

 

Check out these guys:

Peter Meijer

Amir Amedi

David Eagleman

and don't forget about the person who said "We see with our brains, not with our eyes"

Paul Bach-y-Rita

 

Future

We hope that the technological developments will allow to build affordable SSDs. We have built a device, which can be used with some of the existing sensory substitution methods, but at the same time as many people before, we are focusing more on coding color as sound.