Talk about seeing the light. Israeli scientists have developed a "sensory substitution device" (SSD) that they say lets congenitally blind people "see" for the first time ever.
The device is reminiscent of the electronic visor worn by Geordi La Forge, the blind engineer in the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation." It features a tiny computerized video camera that transforms light into so-called "soundscapes"--specific tones that the wearer interprets using his/her sense of hearing.
Using the SSD isn't actually seeing. But after a brief training session, wearers are able to identify everyday objects, locate people and their postures, and even read, according to a written statement released by Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where the technology was developed.
In addition to helping blind people to use their ears to "see," the technology might let researchers peer into the brains of people who have been blind from birth--to get a better sense of how the visual cortex is organized. The visual cortex is the part of the brain that is largely responsible for the sense of sight.
The technology also suggests that the brain can make sense of the world without being dependent on a single sense. As lead researcher Dr. Amir Amedi, a researcher at the university's Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, put it in the statement, "The brain is not a sensory machine, although it often looks like one; it is a task machine."
The technology was described in a recent issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex.
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