Cyborg Watching: Can You See What I Hear?

July 23, 2012
To counteract his achromatopsia, Neil Harbisson developed a device he calls the Eyeborg that transforms colors into sound.

A bit of history first for those who may not be familiar with this story. Artist and performer Neil Harbisson suffers from achromatopsia. The primary symptom of achromatopsia is the inability to perceive color, being able to see his outer environment in black and white only. There are actually five documented symptoms related to achromatopsia, however the inability to perceive color and to achieve satisfactory visual acuity at high light levels such as daylight are at the top of the list.

Obviously, the inability to perceive color can really put a damper on an artist’s creativity to say the least. To counteract his situation, around 2004 Harbisson developed a device he calls the Eyeborg, which you can see him wearing in both photos below. The Eyeborg allows the artist to virtually see color by transforming color frequencies into audible frequencies, essentially translating color into sound. It uses an antenna worn on a head mount that senses color wavelengths and translates them into corresponding audio.

Artist Neil Harbisson has been wearing his Eyeborg, a device that converts colors into sound, since 2004.

Harbisson’s device is not exactly patented, manufactured, or available commercially, however he has a schematic available on one of his websites. Though the logic behind this no-make-for-public-consumption approach is not clear, reportedly, a hobbyist or engineer can slap one of these puppies together pretty easily with readily available parts.

Be that as it may, after wearing his invention since 2004, the artist has developed an updated version he believes to be viable as a medical implant. He now wants to take the plunge this coming September and have the latest version of the Eyeborg attached directly to his skull. The device is expected to transmit vibrations corresponding to colors through his cranium.

First and foremost, I believe we all wish Neil Harbisson the best of luck in his venture. If successful, he will no longer have to wear what looks like a rather cumbersome and uncomfortable apparatus. Then, he will probably be more recognized in public as an artist and performer as opposed to looking like a refugee from an episode of Star Trek, the Next Generation. Second, it is noted that his invention is significant because it works (for its inventor) and provides an example of someone meeting a personal challenge and somewhat conquering it; a feat to be acknowledged and applauded.

Unfortunately, since achromatopsia is a rare condition that does not really negatively, or positively, impact sufferers’ mortality rates, not much effort is being spent on finding a cure. In essence, there is no potential pot of gold ($$$) available for the effort.

Second, Harbisson’s invention, though noteworthy is not by any means a cure or even a treatment. It is essentially a work-around solution. In other words, the recipient needs to learn a unique paradigm: equating sounds with colors he or she has never seen. Also, and absolutely no pun or sarcasm intended (too bad I have to point that out), what if the person with achromatopsia is also tone deaf, unable to distinguish the pitch and/or timbre of different tonesNo Eyeborg for you!

The prognosis is not completely dark for achromatopsia as there is research being done and there are organizations devoted to keeping tabs on research and developments as well as providing support to all involved. And when you think about how fast the tech community can obsolete yesterday’s electronic novelties, surely a viable and affordable solution is forthcoming? Possible, not likely. ~MD

 Beware the robot swarm?

Sponsored Recommendations

What are the Important Considerations when Assessing Cobot Safety?

April 16, 2024
A review of the requirements of ISO/TS 15066 and how they fit in with ISO 10218-1 and 10218-2 a consideration the complexities of collaboration.

Wire & Cable Cutting Digi-Spool® Service

April 16, 2024
Explore DigiKey’s Digi-Spool® professional cutting service for efficient and precise wire and cable management. Custom-cut to your exact specifications for a variety of cable ...

DigiKey Factory Tomorrow Season 3: Sustainable Manufacturing

April 16, 2024
Industry 4.0 is helping manufacturers develop and integrate technologies such as AI, edge computing and connectivity for the factories of tomorrow. Learn more at DigiKey today...

Connectivity – The Backbone of Sustainable Automation

April 16, 2024
Advanced interfaces for signals, data, and electrical power are essential. They help save resources and costs when networking production equipment.


To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Electronic Design, create an account today!