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Hacked Hearing Aids Let You Hear Wi-Fi

Imagine if we could use technology to sense information that, up until now, only computers could interpret. Writer Frank Swain, who has progressive hearing loss, hooked up with artist and programmer Daniel Jones to attempt to transform the invisible data that surrounds us at all times in the form of WiFi networks, radio waves and more, into sound.

The result is Phantom Terrains, an experimental platform that translates wireless data into sonic frequencies, using hacked Bluetooth-enabled Halo hearing aids. The artists write on the project’s site that they aimed to “[explore] hearing as a platform for augmented reality that can immerse us in continuous, dynamic streams of data” and “[challenge] the notion of assistive hearing technology as a prosthetic, re-imagining it as an enhancement that can surpass the ability of normal human hearing.”


To test out their tool, the creators took the hearing aids on a walk around the BBC Broadcasting House. They recorded their results, and employed Stefanie Posavec (whose work we’ve covered here and here) to beautifully visualize the data collected. One would imagine that “hearing” data in our already overstimulating would be obnoxious, but the audio is actually strangely calming, reminiscent of ambient electronic music. Considering how this data constantly flows around us lends these sounds a peaceful, organic aura, like looking at a city skyline: a manmade phenomena that has become natural, and even beautiful.

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