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TECHNOLOGY

Speaker helps deaf to 'feel' music

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A prototype of the Vibrato device which enables deaf people to distinguish the sounds made by different instruments.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A product design graduate has created a device that allows deaf people to "feel" music with their fingertips through an audio speaker.

Shane Kerwin's "Vibrato" invention connects to a speaker and relays the sounds of different instruments using unique vibrations for each one.

While vibrations can be felt on a regular speaker, it is impossible to distinguish the sound of each instrument.

With the Vibrato, a speaker is connected to five different finger pads. When music is played, it sends different vibrations to each of the finger pads, allowing the wearer to feel the difference between notes, rhythms and instrument combinations.

Kerwin, who has recently graduated from Brunel University in west London, said the device allows users to feel music in a much more dramatic and sophisticated way than currently possible.

"Whilst our ears can distinguish different sounds coming from a speaker, our fingers and bodies need more help -- when feeling the vibrations of a regular speaker, it's impossible to distinguish the sound of each instrument."

He said the device was a breakthrough in communicating music through touch.

He hopes it will be used in schools, allowing deaf children to use the same computers and software in their music lessons as hearing children.

"Vibrato will mean deaf children can join in with music classes in a way that would previously have been impossible. I hope that Vibrato will help us to integrate deaf students into mainstream musical education and enable schools to encourage deaf children to take up music as much as hearing children."

Vibrato also allows users to create their own music. By connecting the speaker to a computer, budding deaf composers and musicians can explore a whole variety of instruments, rhythms, pitches and volumes.

Many profoundly deaf and hard-of-hearing musicians -- including Beethoven -- have proved that deafness is not a barrier to musical creativity.

Paul Whittaker, of the UK-based charity Music and the Deaf, welcomed the invention.

"Although there are many deaf people who enjoy music, music technology -- particularly speakers and keyboards -- has been largely inaccessible to them until now," he said.

Whittaker hoped the device would help more deaf people explore and enjoy music.

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