Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Hearing Aid Hacked to Hear Wi-Fi


Smartphone Apps – Translating Characteristic of Wireless Network

Wearable technology is very often linked with smartwatches as well as smart glasses though a person in the UK had hacked his own hearing aid in order to tune in to the sounds of close wi-fi networks. Co-founder of Phantom Terrains, Frank Swain utilises smartphone app for translating the characteristics of wireless networks like their name and speed into sound while traveling around London.

Frank Swain – 32 years, is a science writer from London and was first diagnosed with early onset of hearing loss in his 20s. He had been fitted with hearing aids in 2012 and no sooner had he received it; he began envisaging how he could hack them so that he could hear more of the world around him. He specifically wanted to be capable of hearing something which tends to fill the modern landscape though it is undetectable to the ears. Swain in simple terms wanted to be capable of hearing Wi-Fi signals.

Two years thereafter, on receiving a grant from UK innovation charity – Nesta, the UK innovation charity, Swain together with sound artist Daniel Jones jointly produced Phantom Terrain, which is a new tool that makes Wi-Fi signals distinct. Anyone would have considered this as an odd choice till they study how the electromagnetic signals tend to permeate our modern environment.

Matter of Time – Internet of Things

Users tend to use wireless signals daily for phone calls, check the emails, access navigational data, listen to the radio and surf the web. Considering its present rate of growth, it is said to be only a matter of time before all the devices, sensors, routers as well as signals accompany the `Internet of Things’, an age wherein the world seems to be bounded by digital second skin which tends to cover the physical world that is also inseparable from our lives.

However, the infrastructure for this seems vague to us and that is the reason Swain and Jones developed Phantom Terrain in order that individuals could tune into these arenas. The software can run on a hacked iPhone that utilises inbuilt Wi-Fi sensors to pick important details regarding nearby fields comprising of the router name, encryptions, signal strength and the distance.

While his phone tends to remain in his pocket, Swain can get an aural map blended in with the normal output of the hearing aids. The distant signals seems to get interrupted as background clicks which differ with proximity while the closer and more powerful signals buzz their own network ID information in a entwined melody.

Digital Hearing – Recreate Soundscape/Amplifying Sound/Supressing Noise

Jones informed that on a busy street, one may see more than a hundred independent wireless access points in a signal range and the strength of the signal, direction, name and the security level on these are converted into audio stream made of a foreground and background layer.

Narrating his experience, Swain relates that recreating hearing is an incredibly difficult task and unlike glasses, that simply brings the world into focus, digital hearing aid tend to recreate the soundscape, amplifying useful sound and suppressing noise. As this changes by the second, sorting one from the other needs a lot of programming.

As internet technology, wireless communication and connected devices tend to become more common, the capacity of sensing the strength, intensity and what these signals imply regarding our environment would become more sought after thing. One could speculate without much effort that Wi-Fi mapping tends to become a part of urban or community planning besides sociological or environmental studies.

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