Scientists have developed a new prototype technology to allow those with hearing loss to listen to music through touch.
The prototype, described in the journal LNCS, utilises “tactile illusions” and consists of an algorithm that converts monophonic music into tangible stimuli based on vibration.
“It’s like ‘hacking’ the nervous system to receive a different response to the real stimulus sent,” researchers from the University of Malaga in Spain explained in a statement.
In the study, researchers developed an algorithm that transforms musical features and structures into “vibrotactile stimuli”.
The algorithm takes features and structures of music from Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) files that create “symbolic representations” of sound.
“It’s something similar to mapping music”, study co-author Paul Remach explained.
The study, in which over 50 volunteers participated, suggests the arrangement of “tactile illusions” elicits more positive than negative emotions in participants, provoking a different emotional response from that of the original music.
“Although musical features such as rhythm, tempo, and melody were mostly recognised in the arrangement of tactile illusions, it provoked a different emotional response from that of the original audio,” scientists wrote in the study.
In further studies, scientists hope to improve and extend the spectrum of musical features processed by the algorithm, including changes in direction and location to the vibration.
“It is a challenging process since the perceptible frequency range of the skin is lower than that of the auditory system, which may cause the loss of some musical features”, explained researchers.
They believe the prototype could lead to a portable terminal, easily transferable to technological devices like smartphones, that may be brought to concerts.
“What we want to achieve in the long term is for people who do not hear to be able to ‘listen’ to music,” said Dr Remach, who adds that the technology may also be developed to provide therapy for mental disorders and treatment of pain.