The project Seventh Sense focuses on the development of a cost-effective and power-efficient vibrotactile interface which provides natural, effortless, generic and comfortable immersion for deaf people in the acoustic world.
Deaf people, especially those with profound deafness, are isolated from the sound world as we know it. Speech, music, the sound of a speeding car or the barking of a dog are not part of their experience, at least not acoustically.
Conventional methods such as lip reading and sign language aim to offer some route of communication between people who can hear and deaf people. Nevertheless, lip reading is a really hard skill to acquire. Even the most experienced lip readers can only catch up to 30% of what is being said. When it comes to sign language, despite its great contribution in education and information transfer, things are even more difficult since most people do not learn this method of communication.
Happily technologies such as cochlear implants and hearing aids exist, which offer some sort of acoustic immersion to the deaf people. These are truly transforming solutions but yet not everybody is happy with them, and not everybody can benefit from these devices. For example, cochlear implants are really expensive (up to $50.000 in USA and up to $18.000 in Russia) and are best fitted at a really young age. As the American Speech-hearing Association puts is, “the cochlear implant does not result in restored or cured hearing. It does, however, allow for the perception of the sensation of sound” (ASA, 2016). Similarly, hearing aids cannot help when there is no residual hearing or when the sound perception is distorted. In general, as it turns out, a large percentage of the deaf population remains isolated from experiencing sounds and speech.
We are currently developing a cost-effective technological intervention that provides natural, effortless, generic and comfortable immersion in the acoustic veil of the world. We use a novel design based on a vibrotactile interface. This is a device that converts sound into vibrations that we can feel on our skin. Our solution is novel, relevant to competition in three ways: 1. It follows a new philosophy which is user-centered. 2. We use a novel algorithm implemented in a uniquely assembled hardware which among others it uses modern power-efficient actuators. 3. Our interface mimics the basilar membrane of the ear and provides a comfortable experience the way our brain prefers!
The project is partially funded by the Ministry of Energy, Commerce and Industry (Cyprus) and the European Structural and investment funds. It is further supported through a residency by ARIS.