Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Music for Deaf People ’synesthesia’ neckset

Music for Deaf People ’synesthesia’ neckset

Designer Frederik Podzuweit has developed an innovative device to allow the deaf to enjoy music – synesthetic headphones which employ direct vibrations to the skin.

As revealed over on The Design Blog, the device, which is purely a concept for now, aims to tap in to the concept of ’synesthesia’ – a neurological condition which causes sensations gathered by one sense to be perceived by another: smells that have color, colors that have taste, and tastes that produce sounds, for example.

While synesthesia is often thought of as an unwelcome condition, attempts have been made in the past to create a voluntary form of the experience – most frequently in computer games, with music-based shooters such as Rez being one of the first to attempt to match vibrations, visuals, and music in a complete synesthetic experience.

It is this voluntary synesthesia that Podzuweit is attempting to harness with his invention: by causing the sounds – which a deaf person is unable to sense – to be detected as vibrations on the skin – which the deaf person can sense – it is possible to experience music without ever using your ears.

The Music for Deaf People device takes the form of a collar which is worn over the neck and shoulders and connected to your music source – an MP3 player, iPod, mobile handset or the like. Play, pause, track skipping and ‘volume’ control – which actually adjusts the force of the vibration effect – are available via easy-to-access buttons on the ends of the collar, making the device suitable for use by those whose fine motor control skills aren’t what they once were as well as the younger deaf set.

Once triggered, the device translates the bass, midtones, and treble into distinctive vibrations – making it possible for a deaf person to distinguish music with surprising clarity, albeit without actually ‘hearing’ anything.

It’s an interesting concept design, and while it would take quite some time to get used to – after all, centuries of evolution have lead to touch and hearing being used in very different ways – it represents one of the first projects designed to bring the convenience and enjoyment of modern portable music playback devices to the deaf community.

While it’s a neat device, the Music for Deaf People ‘neckphones’ remain a design concept – and, thus far, Podzuweit hasn’t revealed any plans to put the device into production. Hopefully there are companies out there looking to get the deaf dollar – Apple, are you listening here? – who would be interested in helping Podzuweit bring the interesting concept to fruition.