New vest helps deaf 'feel' speech

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The VEST, or versatile extra-sensory transducer, helps the profoundly deaf 'feel' speech.

An experimental vest could be a game-changer for the profoundly deaf as it allows them to "feel" speech.

The VEST, which stands for versatile extra-sensory transducer, uses an app that picks up sound frequencies from a microphone and translates them into vibrational patterns.

"You can feel the 'R.' The 'R' in 'car' feels more rumbly. 'House' has a sudden stop," VEST test participant Jonathan Leach explained.

More than two dozen vibrating motors are sewn into the vest and lights are used to let the person wearing it see what the words would feel like.

Leach said at first it just felt like vibrations across his torso, but after a few weeks his brain started to recognize patterns in words.

"The thing to note is that this is exactly what your inner ear does. Your inner ear just breaks things up into frequencies and you've got from high to low and that's how your brain receives the information," Dr. David Eagleman, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Neo-Sensory, Inc. said.

Leach wears the vest every day, and said it gives him a gut feeling that this'll be a game-changer in the deaf community.

"Maybe it'll help me with family who don't know how to sign, maybe it'll help me communicate with them better," Leach explained.

Eagleman said it took deaf volunteers a few days to start learning the patterns in the vibrations and the training lasts several months.

The Neo-Sensory team was working to commercialize VEST and expected it to cost a few thousand dollars compared to a cochlear implant which can cost about $100,000.
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