The Man Who “Hears” WiFi Wherever He Goes

At this second, an untold spectrum of frequencies is passing through your body, everything from cosmic radiation to FM radio signals. We don’t feel a thing.  Well, most of us don’t.

Frank Swain is a 32 year-old man living in London who was positive he was going deaf. He went to an audiologist who confirmed the diagnosis and fitted him with hearing aids two years ago. They helped, but then Mr. Swain decided to get creative.

Using a grant from an innovation charity, he backed his hearing aids so they made WiFi signals audible with a system he calls Phantom Terrains. I quote:

Streams of wireless data surge from internet exchanges and cellphone relays, flowing from routers to our devices and back again. This saturation of data has become a ubiquitous part of modern life, yet it is completely invisible to us. What would it mean to develop an additional sense which makes us continuously attuned to the invisible data topographies that pervade the city streets?

Phantom Terrains is an experimental platform which aims to answer this question by translating the characteristics of wireless networks into sound. By streaming this signal to a pair of hearing aids, the listener is able to hear the changing landscapes of data that surround them. Network identifiers, data rates and encryption modes are translated into sonic parameters, with familiar networks becoming recognizable by their auditory representations.

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. 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.

Read more.  There’s also a story in The Independent.



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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