Pranav Lal is a photographer from New Delhi, India who, despite his blindness, is able to take photos thanks to The vOICe, a device that turns live camera images into sounds that he can use to compose his images.
The vOICE is an augmented reality synthetic vision device that uses auditory video representations to communicate with the wearer, allowing Lal to gain a sense of his surroundings. As explained by CNN, when the wearer turns their head left or right, the camera scans the view and generates a different pitch that denotes changes in elevation, while the volume of that sound defines brightness. The wearer can learn to interpret this information and gain a form of functional sight without the use of their eyes.
The technology was developed by Peter Meijer way back in the 1980s but has evolved over that time significantly. The current version of the software is available for Android. The video below briefly shows how the device works:
Rewiring the brain to create new senses https://t.co/PDRANYBbMj via sensory substitution https://t.co/MEYqHXBZBD Try The vOICe web app https://t.co/6VYVeS9uLK or The vOICe for Android https://t.co/XZKnjZMjZc You can even use hands-free smart glasses! https://t.co/MMwDblm21k pic.twitter.com/cywjmBSxYb
— The vOICe vision 😷 (@seeingwithsound) December 29, 2018
The video below shows the device in action, which allows the blind to “see” their surroundings:
The vOICe runs on various smart glasses, and the instructions for compiling your own working version of these glasses is explained here.
Lal has also posted a blog on his website that explains to combine a Raspberry Pi 4, a camera connected via USB to the Pi Camera, Orca running on the Pi, and a pair of wired headphones to build a working version of the vOICe.
“One of the biggest strengths of this setup is that you can choose what modules you want to add,” Lal writes. “I cannot suggest what battery pack/power bank you go for. Do check the power specifications of the pi 4. You will also need to enclose the raspberry pi in a case. The case is up to you. I have used an off-the-shelf ABS container for my case.”
Using this technology, Pranav has been an avid photographer for several years which he documents on his blog.
Lal recently appeared on TEDxICTMumbai where he discusses what it is like to be a blind photographer, and the visual to auditory sensory substitution he uses to create his images.
“I have enjoyed taking all the photographs up there,” Lal tells PetaPixel, referring to his blog posts. “For me, some of them that are the most meaningful have been of things I cannot touch in full or cannot touch at all. This includes landscapes and things like geysers which I could not touch safely.”
Lal’s blog is full of his photos and his perspective on what it’s like to be a photographer without sight and is highly worth your time to peruse.
Lal has repeatedly praised Meijer’s free software that allows him to continue experimenting with different hardware solutions over the years.
“I think there is a lot of enhancement possible,” he says to CNN. “I think we can go beyond organic vision, perhaps, or at least use other kinds of sensors to substitute for organic vision.”
Image Credits: Photos by Pranav Lal and used with permission.