Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed a device with which congenitally blind people will be able to see again to some extent. This “sonar vision” device transforms images into sound, enabling the blind to perceive visual information via the ear. Results of the conducted study using the technology were published in Neuron.
The sonar system can transform images into sounds by using a combination of a video camera embedded in a pair of eyeglasses, a laptop and headphones. Before being able to “see” with this device, a person will need about 70 hours of specialized training in identifying shapes transformed into sound. After this training the blind person may become very adept at perceiving information like where people are located in a room and even to read words and letters.
The research also showed that certain regions of the visual cortex become highly activated after perceiving the “sonar vision” of objects. Functional MRI testing even showed a similar functional selectivity of different categories of objects, compared with sighted people. These results point towards the idea that the visual cortex also analyses the shapes of objects through auditory or tactile input. This shows promise that blind people with the right technology and training might be able to perceive the visual properties of the environment through other senses than sight.
News release on CEA site: A sonar vision system for the congenitally blind