Rice University creates vibrating vest, allowing deaf to feel sounds

Almost every perceives sound through hearing, but what if you could touch sound understand it simple by feeling vibrations? In a partnership with the Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University is developing VEST, Versatile Extra-Sensory Transducer, a device that could teach the hearing impaired a new language of sound. Rice's electrical engineering students, headed by neuroscientist David Eagleman, developed the wearable vest to take auditory input from its surroundings and transcribe it into vibrations. The vest is essentially creating a new way for people with hearing difficulties to perceive sounds.

The vest uses a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone to pull audio info from the environment and isolate speech from ambient noise. Using signal decomposition, the sound waves, which are essential vibrations, are slowed down and converted into electrical impulses, which are then converted into vibrations.

So, what makes these vibrations different from standing in front of a sub-woofer? The vibration patterns on the vest are designed to work as a sort of language. Each sound creates a unique pattern of vibrations in different areas of the torso, and over time, the wearer can learn to interpret those vibrations as sound or speech.

The device is based on the theory of sensory substitution. According to Eagleman, "the brain doesn't care how it gets information as long as it gets it." For example, although the brain perceives visual information through the eyes and auditory information through the ears, it can learn to process that information through other senses. This vest allows people without a complete sense of hearing to perceive sound through touch and vibration.

The team has run a series of experiments which validate their theory that wearers can intuit speech and meaning from the vibrational patterns. The developers want to go beyond research and make this technology available to the public. They hope to sell the vest to consumers who want to gain the new sense of understanding sound through touch.

Source: Futurity