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Hacked hearing aids produce stellar ambient tunes from WiFi signals

Billy Steele
December 3, 2014
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What if we could hear the numerous invisible data frequencies that swirl around us every day? That's exactly what a project from hearing-impaired writer Frank Swain and artist Daniel Jones aims to do. Phantom Terrains is the proper name of the effort, and by hacking Swain's Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids, the duo has transformed WiFi signals into ambient sounds. So instead of seeing the device as a prosthetic, it's used as a sort of super power. The modification allows him to stroll around and listen to the range of tones electromagnetic signals provide -- like the pattern of a network's security parameters. And of course, no one else nearby can pick them up.

"The project challenges the notion of assistive hearing technology as a prosthetic, re-imagining it as an enhancement that can surpass the ability of normal human hearing," the pair's website explains. "By using an audio interface to communicate data feeds rather than a visual one, Phantom Terrains explores hearing as a platform for augmented reality that can immerse us in continuous, dynamic streams of data." With plenty of invisible signals floating around, there's no end to the amount of data that's ripe for this sort of transformation. And thanks to designer Stefanie Posavec, detailed maps of signal data along the way make for quite the interesting visual compliment.

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