Using Sound to See


Can you imagine being able to see for the first time because of a smartphone app?

There is a new device that uses sounds or music to allow the blind, or those partially blind, to visualize and navigate their surroundings. This new technology now is accessible through an app on your smartphone.


Development of sensory devices
In recent years, two sensory substitution devices were developed to enhance sight with sounds. The device, vOICe, created by Dutch engineer Peter Meijer in 1992, uses an algorithm to convert simple grayscale images into musical sounds. In 2007, researchers at Hebrew University in Jerusalem used vOICe technology to develop EyeMusic which added color to sounds and shapes.

Now the EyeMusic program is available as a smartphone app. With the phone’s camera, users record scenes and landscapes, and the app teaches them to identify sounds with shapes. For example, a diagonal line, such as a staircase, is converted to a string of rising musical notes, or if there is an obstacle in the picture, such as a chair to the left of the user, it will be represented by a shift in tone and frequency.

Using the EyeMusic app requires patience and training. Sometimes it requires several months to use it effectively. However, hearing experts believe that once blind people become accustomed to using the app, they will experience more independence and confidence to navigate the world around them.

Facts about blindness
EyeCare America provides these statistics concerning blindness in the United States:

  • Approximately 3.4 million Americans age 40 or older are visually impaired or blind, costing over $4 billion annually in benefits and lost income

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