Eyeborg Neil Harbisson hears colour with head-mounted camera

Jordan Chittley
Daily Buzz

Neil Harbisson may not be an entirely rebuilt six-million dollar astronaut, but he has become the first person to be recognized by a government as a cyborg.

The artist has been colourblind his whole life. Now, thanks to a device he wears on his head, Harbisson can hear colours.

The device, called an eyeborg, comes out of the back of his head and hangs down in front of his eyebrow. A chip at the back of Harbisson's head transforms the light waves into sound and he hears it though bone. C on the scale represents blue, F represents red, A represents green and so on. Harbisson can see a total of 360 colours, which is more than the human eye.

He wears it everywhere and in 2004 the U.K. Identity and Passport Service officially recognized it as part of his body, according to the Daily Mail.

Harbisson told his tale to Outlook on the BBC World Service.

When Harbisson was 11, he was diagnosed with achromatopsia (a rare vision disorder) that allows him only to see shades of grey. Doctors said it was incurable. When he was 16, much to the dismay of a teacher, Harbisson decided to study art because he wanted to understand colour. He was allowed to do the course in greyscale. In University, he saw a lecture on cybernetics and asked the speaker if it was possible to create a device for him to see colour. The speaker created one out of a webcam, a computer, headphones and software that translates colour to sound.

"At the beginning I had some strong headaches because of the constant input of sound, but after five weeks my brain adapted to it, and I started to relate music and real sound to colour," Harbisson told BBC. "It has completely changed the way I perceive art. Now I have created a completely new world where colour and sound are exactly the same thing."

Harbisson has also started dreaming in colour.

But having an antenna sticking out of the back of his head hasn't always made life easy.

He has trouble getting into some places because people fear he may do something strange and last year police attacked him at a demonstration because they thought he was filming. They tried to pull the camera off his head.

Despite these minor setbacks, Harbisson keeps wearing the device and sees it as something that will continue to evolve. He's working on seeing ultraviolet, which would be helpful because it can damage skin.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)