Researchers at Rice University are working on a vest that can work for deaf people by substituting the tactile sense instead of hearing. Neuroplasticity allows our brains to process new kinds of information that we are not capable of, normally.
Rice students are refining a vest (Versatile Extra-Sensory Transducer) with microphones and dozens of embedded actuators with an array of 24 vibration motors throughout its surface. The microphones on the vest pick up the sound around the person, which is then processed and translated into vibrations. The vibrations occur in specific patterns to represent words. The vest responds to inputs from a phone or tablet app that isolates speech from ambient sound.
"Along with all the actuators, the system includes a controller board and two batteries," said Gary Woods, Rice professor in the practice of computer technology. "The actuators vibrate in a very complicated pattern based on audio fed through a smartphone. The patterns are too complicated to translate consciously."
Experiments of the device on those with hearing impairment has been done. Dr. Novich said, "As they use the vest more, they get feedback and know whether they are right or wrong and start to memorize patterns. People are able to identify words they have never encountered before."