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Biohacking: Learning to See with Sound

There is a software package that has been available since 1992 called “the vOICe“. It allows for sensory substitution creating an audio landscape based on camera images. The primary application for this software is to assist the blind with navigation. However, I can see from a biohacking perspective that “the vOICe” might just fall under the brushing with magic category.  Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote comes to mind “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Yes, seeing people blind folded that can successful find a table, pick up a fork and serve themselves might just seem like magic to on lookers.

Early home-made setup for The vOICE. Smaller cameras, phones and Raspberry Pi support are making things less awkward.

Here is a summary of the Hardware options to start experimenting with “the vOICe” today:

The above image has a WAV file associated with it so you can hear what the sine wave and block shapes sound like.

Learning the navigation queues:

The good news is that there is an excellent manual with step by step exercises such as picking up blocks on a table while blind folded. The bad news is that this process of hearing where things are needs to be done in baby steps. Just picking up brightly colored blocks from a dark table has a recommended two week training period with 30 minutes a day block practice. Full soundscape navigation fluency is expected to take up to a year.

The voice works in a very predictable way “scans the view from left to right, while associating height with pitch and brightness with loudness. Another way of describing the mapping is that each view is scanned in thin vertical slices, starting with a vertical slice sounding on your left side and ending with a vertical slice sounding on your right side.”

Reading through the manual and attempting to navigate my home with the Droid app required I make some adjustments:

  • Lower the volume – the soundscapes being played are intense and even irritating depending on what is in the current frame. Lower volume helps a lot with absorbing the sounds.
  • Practice Blindfolded
  • Move quickly (when safe to do so) or at least naturally. Moving slow is different experience that has too much thinking involved. The goal is to stop analyzing and become fluent.

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