Can sensory data be fed through unusual sensory channels?  And can the brain learn to extract the meaning of such information streams?

Yes and yes. Sensory substitution is a non-invasive technique for circumventing the loss of one sense by feeding its information through another channel. We are leveraging this technique to develop a non-invasive, low-cost vibratory vest to allow those with deafness or severe hearing impairments to perceive auditory information through small vibrations on their torso.

VAC

(Figure from Scott Novich and David Eagleman)

 Watch a video explaining the background and future of the Vest from the Being Human conference:

To make this work, we are capitalizing on recent advances in audio codecs and digital signal processing. In parallel, we are forging new research paths to maximize the information capacity of skin--for example, by using small 'sweeps' of vibratory motors rather than a single motor that turns on and off. As it turns out, people are much better at detecting these sweeps (green data points, below):

VACprelimData

(Data from Novich and Eagleman, under review)


For the larger theoretical ideas behind this project, see a 3 minute video on BigThink: Welcome to Your Future Brain.

The long term goal of our work is to better understand how sensory streams can be re-packaged into atypical sensory channels to restore perception or give new perceptions. Beyond applications for hearing, this research will contribute to a generalized framework for designing devices to send any kinds of information to the brain for sensory processing via atypical sensory modalities. Such a framework will feed both rehabilitative and assistive technologies

For more on the principles of neural plasticity that underlie this work, please keep an eye out for David's 2014 book on brain plasticity, LiveWired.

From the Blog

  • British musician Jarvis Cocker reads from Sum
    British musician Jarvis Cocker reads from Sum

    Hear British rocker Jarvis Cocker read the short story "Descent of Species" from Sum.

  • Eagleman and Eno perform Sum
    Eagleman and Eno perform Sum

    Brian Eno and I have twice performed a musical version of Sum, once at the Sydney Opera House, and once at the Brighton Dome. Learn more.

  • Brain Time
    Brain Time

    The days of thinking of time as a river—evenly flowing, always advancing—are over. Time perception, just like vision, is a construction of the brain.

  • Ten books I love
    Ten books I love

    I was recently asked to list ten books that have "inspired, moved, and enlightened" me. Here's my list:

You are here:   HomeResearchSensory Substitution


Coming in 2014