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May 31, 2005

Hearing colors: the Eye-borg

HMC Entertainment Systems have invented a new device called the Eye-Borg that allows people with visual impairments and even total blindness to experience the world in colour. This system has the added effect of turning them into cyborgs, or, more accurately Eye-Borgs.

The Eye-Borg project started when Adam Montandon gave a lecture on practical cyborg techniques and applications. He was approached by Neil Harbisson, a young student artist.

Neil had a rare condition of achromatopsia (a rare hereditary vision disorder which affects 1 person in 33,000). One of the effects of achromatopsia is monochromatism, the inability to perceive colour. To him the world was black and white.

Fast Moving Energies
Neil’s only comprehension of colours were as “being an energy that I can’t see because it moves too quickly. I’ve imagined colours as fast moving energies”. Neil became curious as to the possibilities of a cyborg-like extension of his sensory system. A new input based prosthesis!

Adam built a system that would effectively hijack Neil’s other senses by allowing him to see colour through his ears. It works with a head mounted camera that reads colours directly in front of a person, and converts them in real-time, via a computer, into sound waves.

Surprisingly, within 15 minutes of Neil using the system he was able to instantly recognise similarities and differences between hues – something he had never previously been able to do.

Neil is now able to paint with a full spectrum of colors incredibly accurately, as he wears his Eye-Borg prosthesis 24 hours a day. HMC aim to develop the Eye-Borg further so that all colour-blind or partially sighted people can experience a new clarity of digital vision.

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