Vision versus hearing, which one is dominant?

Dear followers,

As the academic year comes to an end, so does our blog adventure.

As a goodbye gift, we would like to give you a statement paper with the ideas and insight that we have gathered throughout the year. You can find it here: Vision versus hearing, which one is dominant?

We hope this will help you to understand our point of view with regard to the topics that are discussed in this blog and help you form your own. We will still be available to reply on your comments.

Enjoy and thank you for following us.

Koenraad and Heleen

The Argus

Happy Monday, dear reader of our blog!

And what is a better way to start the week than with some Greek Mythology? Have you heard of the Gigantes? They were Greek mythological creatures, closely related to the gods, who had a superhuman size and strength. For example there was Polyphemos, the shepherd cyclops who had his eye poked out by Odysseus. There was Orion, the hunter who could walk on water, and who you can still see as a constellation in the sky. And there was Argus.
Argus has slain many evildoers in his lifetime, snakes and bulls and satyrs alike. The thing he was most renown for, however, was the fact that he had a hundred eyes, covering all of his body, that were never sleeping all at the same time. This made him an excellent guardian, which is the job Hera, wife of Zeus, employed him for when she found a cow, who she thought was Io, one of the lovers of her husband, who he had transformed to keep her safe from Hera’s wrath. She was right, but she could not exert her wrath on Io after all, since Zeus sent Hermes to free his mistress, thereby slaying poor Argus.

Argus being slain by Hermes

But what does all of this have to do with the theme of this blog? Little, I admit, except for the giants’ connection to sight, which has led the company Second Sight to name a device after him.

The Argus

The Argus is a device targeted towards people who have lost their vision due damaged photo-receptors in the retina, which can be caused by the retinitis pigmentosa disease. It is a retinal implant, together with a pair of glasses that hold a camera, and an external video processing unit. The glasses capture a video, after which the processing unit converts it to instructions, which are send to the implant. These instructions are meant to (at least to a certain degree) replace the signals that would be coming from the photo-receptors. It effectively bypasses these damaged photo-receptors, and send signals directly to the brain.

The retinal implant, which bypasses the photo-receptors


Now, this does sadly not mean that the user regains all of their vision, but they will at least be able to see some shapes and outlines. This is where the fact that people with this implant were once able to see completely (in case of retinitis pigmentosa at least) comes in handy: they can use the memory of what things looked like to form complete images with the limited information they are getting through the device. And regardless, it is an improvement over being almost, or entirely blind.

You could see this more as a “restoring vision” device rather than a “replacing vision” one, but I found that this kind of tool deserves some highlighting as well. However, that does bring us to an interesting question. If you could choose what to invest your money in, would you rather invest it into a solution that “cure” blindness – that restores vision to people completely, or in one that circumvents blindness – basically changing the world to be more adaptive towards blind people? One would remove the problem completely, but keep in mind that there are many different causes for blindness, and equally as many solutions that would have to be found. The other would help people in accepting the disability, but would ultimately not solve the problem at the roots. What are your thoughts? I’m curious.



Malleable brain

Our brain is a strange thing. It still has a lot of secrets for us, but step by step it we are trying to unravel it. This post is about how the brain of a sighted person works vs the brain of a blind person, which show that our brain is malleable.

When sighted people see an outline or silhouette of a person, areas of the cerebral cortex become active. (the cerebral cortex is specialized in making sense of visual stimuli ) The extrastriate body area, seems particularly interested in people: It responds more strongly to images of the human body than to other types of objects.

According to a research that was done by  Ella Striem-Amit and Amir Amedi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the same areas in the brain are working when a blind person recognizes another person using sound as stimulation.

Another example of why the brain is malleable is that when blind people learn braille, their visual cortex becomes sensitive to touch instead vision. The input to the different parts of the brain can change, but the function of that part of the brain will stay the same.




Orion TI-84 plus


Graphing calculators are important for students who are in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Those calculators are easy to use for ‘normal’ students, but not for students who are blind or visually impaired.

That is why Texas Instruments teamed up with Orbit research to develop the Orion TI-84 Plus. This device represents the breakthrough in STEM education for blind and visually impaired students. By making a basic tool accessible, blind or visually impaired students will be more encouraged to choose for STEM education. Making it more inclusive and giving them more opportunities later in life.

I think this is a huge step forward in including people with disabilities in the classroom. Do you think that this device will lead to more blind or visually impaired students choosing for STEM education?



Brainport V100

A wonderful day to you, dear reader!


You come to this page seeing a fancy science-fiction-looking title, and obviously you wonder what on earth it could be. Well, it is one of the sensory substitutions we haven’t discussed yet. It replaces vision by sensing with your tongue. It is not quite the same as replacing it by taste, but I’ll explain that later. We’ve had multiple applications that substitute vision by touch (albeit most often at the braille side), we’ve had some that substitute it by hearing (we’re even making our own thesis about it), but this might seem a little less likely to give you the same results.

And partially, that is correct. The Brainport V100 device is meant as a vision “assistant”: it helps a visually impaired person gain some information about shapes of items in front of them, and helps with their orientation, but it does not have the accuracy that some of the technologies previously discussed on this blog have.

The Brainport V100

How does it work? Not unlike our own thesis, the device makes use of a camera, added on to a pair of goggles. The data the camera reads in are processed, and the shapes of the objects recorded is sent to the output. And the output is what really makes this special. It is a 3×3 cm array of 400 electrodes that are individually pulsed according to the recorded image. The array is connected to the goggles via a wire, and is meant to be places on the tongue of the user. They can – though not without any practice – recognize the signals and gain information about their surroundings by using them. It’s no major inconvenience either: the signal is perceived as a fizzly feeling on your tongue, and, as user feedback suggests, can be quite pleasant.

The electrode array

As is per definition the case with sensory substitution, gaining vision is traded off by (temporary) loss of another sense, in a certain location. Indeed, it will be difficult at best to taste anything while using the device, and, perhaps more important, also speech and vision are mutually exclusive in this solution. This is of course a trade-off the users themselves have to make, and as discussed before, just having the option to use either one is a big step forwards already. The device itself makes it easy to change between using and not using as well, which is also an advantage in that regard.

And speaking of options, the choice of which assisting device to use is also a decision that a user can make, depending on his own personal experience. And there are several, quite differing options available. Just scroll through our previous posts :).




More info? Go to the site of the producer, read some articles in the media about it, or have even the manual of the device.

Cap collection

The Belgian guide dog federation came up with an idea to raise money for guide dogs while at the same time reducing the pile of waste.

Foto pup met nieuw jasje

It is called ‘dopjesactie’, literally translated it means ‘cap action’. They encourage people to collect the caps from plastic bottles. These caps will be sold to recycling companies who recycle it to make plastic pallets.

I think this is a good idea that is easy to implement by everyone. It does not require a lot of effort since the waste already has to be sorted in Belgium and it is something that everyone can do.

If you want to join them, you can find more information on their (Dutch or French) website.




Hey guys! Welcome to another blog post!


Apart from all the technological tools discussed here before, braille has long been the main way of reading for blind people, and still remains very important today. That’s why the main focus this time around is going to be a simple, but cleverly thought out tool to teach braille to young children. Why would you need an extra tool especially marketed towards children? Well, the problem lies in the fact that apart from learning a language, a child still has to learn about the world. As a comparison, most non-visually impaired readers have probably had, when they were toddlers,  some books with pictures of animals and objects, with the names of them spelled out underneath it.

Learning to read

Fittle, a concept that sprouted from an MIT workshop, tries to do just that, but by replacing the medium of vision by the medium of touch. And this does not only count for the letters, but also for the pictures themselves. It is an interactive learning tool that consists out of sets of blocks in particular shapes that fit together. If you fit all the blocks of a set together, the result will be a block shaped like an animal/tool/object, much like the way the pictures are portrayed in the children’s books. On the blocks, a braille symbol indicates a letter of the name of the object you’re building. After building, you’ll be able to read out the entire word.

Fittle blocks portraying the word “Fish”

This makes for a fun and interactive way of learning how to read for children, and it gives you a much more (literally) tangible idea of what the object you just read is. Fittle even made the models of the blocks available for download on their site, so everyone can use a 3D-printer to create them themselves. If you have a printer in the vicinity (like Fablab for my co-students at KULeuven), you can head over there right now and create these for very little money. They had a Indiegogo fundraiser a little while ago, that only raised a fraction of what they strived for, but it is still being worked on.

This is one of those few tools that is beautiful in its simplicity, but extremely powerful and empowering tools. It is unfortunate that I didn’t learn of it sooner, I would definitely have backed it.