New technology will help deaf people hear through their fingers

A group of Israeli and Polish scientists have tested the technique of multisensory stimulation of the senses. The goal is to help people with hearing, vision and other types of perception better orient themselves by combining several sources of information about what is happening around them. In the first experiment, a device for transmitting sound data through tactile sensations was tested - it makes it possible to “hear with your fingers”.

The well-known problem of the “cocktail party” was taken as a basis, when it is difficult for people with hearing problems to isolate the voice of the interlocutor against the background of the speech of the rest of the people in the room. They need extra concentration, which is why Amir Amedi, Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, suggested using a vibrating auditory stimulator. This device converts low-frequency audio signals of speech into the vibration of a fingerprint plate. For reliability, a double set of vibration plates and a directional microphone are used.

The experiment involved a group of Israelis with normal hearing and knowledge of English, which was not their first language. They were allowed to listen to a recording of English speech amid distracting noise. Before using the stimulant, almost no one could make out the words from the recording and understand the meaning of the text. After listening to the recording, along with the vibration signal, almost everything correctly conveyed the essence of what they heard.

According to Dr. Tomasz Wolak of the Polish World Hearing Center, the use of multisensory stimulation forces the brain to use more resources to process data from a single source. That becomes the key to a qualitatively different understanding of them - vibration in the fingers compensates for the interference that prevents the ear from perceiving the sound signal. This is also true for quiet sound, when the energy of the air vibrations is not enough to recognize the sound - tactile sensations help to compensate for this factor.