Sunglasses that let people hear the sights

Sometimes life is just too cool. Here are a smartphone and some earbuds that take information from a webcam attached to a pair of sunglasses and allow blind people to 'see.'

Mass market implants that allow blind people to see directly are still some time away, although there is an individual who has an artificial eye. But there may be a way to bestow sight on a practical level. A product called vOICe allows deaf people to receive visual information about what's in front of them. A pair of sunglasses with a webcam give signals to a smartphone. The phone then translates the visual information into audio signals.

The placement and quality of the audio signals should allow people who are blind to navigate around the world by using the audio cues. The system has a code for the things it picks up visually, that can translate into helpful, if not very detailed pictures. 'Up' and 'down' are communicated by high and low frequencies, respectively. Light, and lots of it, turns up the volume, while dark is quiet. The camera scans at certain speeds, so a bright white object high up on the far right of the person would be indicated by a long pause, and then a loud high noise.

The device is a combination of basic technologies that the recent trend in pocket-sized electronics makes practical now, although how vOICe catches on will depend on a number of factors. Optical implants loom on the horizon, and for now blind people have many ways of navigating the world using their own senses. Technical audio cues that depend on a device might not be helpful when learned ones that depend only on reality are already in place. Still, the idea of translating the visual world into audio data is a fun one. Maybe one day, with facial recognition software, the device could be trained to play a ringtone whenever people see someone they know.

Via Discovery.