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People with hearing loss can now listen to music with new technology

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Scientists have created a prototype gadget that will allow those who are deaf to listen to music through touch. The prototype makes use of “tactile illusions,” which are algorithms that turn monophonic music into palpable sensations based on vibration. It might lead to a portable terminal that can be quickly transferred to cellphones and transported to concerts.

Scientists have created a new prototype system that will allow those who are deaf to listen to music through touch. The prototype, detailed in the journal LNCS, makes use of “tactile illusions” and comprises of an algorithm that turns monophonic music into vibration-based palpable stimuli.

“It’s like ‘hacking’ the nervous system to get a different reaction to the genuine stimuli,” claimed researchers from Spain’s University of Malaga. The researchers created an algorithm that converts musical characteristics and structures into “vibrotactile stimuli” in the study.

The program extracts musical elements and structures from Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) files, resulting in “symbolic representations” of sound.

“It’s kind of like mapping music,” research co-author Paul Remach remarked.

The study, which included more than 50 volunteers, reveals that the arrangement of “tactile illusions” generates more pleasant than negative feelings in individuals, eliciting a distinct emotional reaction than the original music.

“Although musical qualities such as rhythm, pace, and melody were mainly recognized in the arrangement of tactile illusions,” scientists noted in the research. Scientists anticipate that further research will enhance and broaden the range of musical characteristics analyzed by the algorithm, such as variations in vibration direction and position.

“It is a difficult procedure since the perceived frequency range of the skin is smaller than that of the auditory system, which may result in the loss of some musical qualities,” researchers stated.

They hope the prototype might lead to a portable terminal that can be readily transferred to electronic devices such as cellphones and transported to concerts.

“What we hope to achieve in the long run is for patients who cannot hear to be able to ‘listen’ to music,” Dr. Remach said, adding that the technology might also be used to treat mental problems and pain.

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