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Using Pseudo-Hilbert Curves to Assist People Perceive Images via Sound

Posted 1 year ago
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Recently, I was learning about infinite space filling curves and their applications in real life. I became fascinated with Hilbert Curves, one of many plane-filling functions. I wanted to see how these shapes could be used in image to video conversion. To begin with, I explored how pseudo Hilbert Curves could be used to convert a square image to audio so that each pixel color was associated with a specific sound.

Theoretically, a person would be able to learn this association and would be able to reconstruct a mental image by listening to audio. This could help with people who are visually impaired, letting blind people "hear" pictures. The reverse is also true. People who are deaf will be able to "see" sound.

I thought I could implement this using Mathematica, which I learned last summer at the Wolfram High School Camp.

Why Hilbert Curves

Pseudo-Hilbert Curves from Order 1 to 10 As you can see above, as you increase the order, the limit of these curves start to fill an infinite amount of space. A true Hilbert Curve is actually $\lim_{n\to\infty} PseudoHilbertCurve_n$. Each one of these curves can be used on an image of dimensions 2 by 2, 4 by 4, 8 by 8, etc. The curve needed is accordingly:

HilbertCurve[Log[2, ImageDimensions[image]]]

Each line in the curve will go over one pixel in the image, starting at the bottom left and ending at the bottom right.

Example of Order 3 Pseudo Hilbert Curve

But why would you need to use this specific pattern, as supposed to something more simple? Here: In short, if you were to increase the resolution of your image, you would now have to retrain your brain to re-associate the pixel value and the associated frequency at that point on the image. But this is not the case on a Hilbert Curve. As you increase the resolution of your image, and thus the order pseudo-Hilbert Curve, a point will just move closer and closer to its limit in the same space, which solves our problem.

Converting Color to Sound

This was the main hurdle when writing the program. I needed to convert each pixel value to a unique sound frequency. My initial thought was to just create an association between each wavelength in the visible electromagnetic spectrum and a frequency, but I was quick to learn that doesn't work in the digital world. RGB colors could be a combination of different wavelengths. And I couldn't just add these wavelengths separately because there could be overlap. There was also brightness and darkness which isn't part of the light spectrum. So instead of the RGB format, I decided to use the HSB format (hue, saturation, and brightness). This is also more compatible for human learning, as the human eye uses these three characteristics to determine color, as supposed to the RGB values on a computer image.

Graphics3D Visualizer of HSB

As you can see from the image, Hue could be used to determine the color. Now, instead of RGB with three values to one color, Hue gave me one number to a specific color.

Graphics Hue Color Chart

But I still needed to show saturation and brightness in my sound waves. Color in a computer is expressed in three dimensions while sound has two: amplitude and frequency. I would be leaving one color property out. I could think of multiple ways to express all three as sound waves, but none of them made sure that similar colors sounded the same. For example, if I had a hue playing a certain frequency, I could define a range around this point that could express either saturation or brightness using a plus/minus system.

To solve this, I decided to use AudioChannel functions. This way, one channel could express the hue through a specific frequency, while the other channel could express the saturation and brightness combined through volume and frequency respectively. This way, colors that were similar would sound similar too.

Creating the Function

Obviously, I needed to get real images. I used image1, where the pixels were easily noticeable, and my baby picture for the school yearbook as image2, as a test image. The first one, being resized to a 8 by 8 image, would utilize an order 3 pseudo-Hilbert Curve ( $\log _{2}8=3$), and the second one, being resized to a 32 by 32 image, would utilize an order 5 pseudo-Hilbert Curve ( $\log _{2}32=5$).

The images I used to test the program.

To get the HSB values, I used Wolfram's in-built Hilbert Curve and Pixel Value functions. I used Pixel Value to read the image's pixel values as bytes, which was converted to RGB and then to HSB. To get the points on the Hilbert Curve that was associated with their respective position on the image, I added {1,1} to each point so that it matched the pixel space (the origin on a Cartesian Plane is designated as (1,1) on an image).

getHSB[image_] := 
  RGBColor /@ 
     image, ({1, 1} + #) & /@ 
      HilbertCurve[Log[2, ImageDimensions[image][[1]]]][[1]], "Byte"],
     255.], "HSB"]

In the Wolfram Language, HSB values range from 0 to 1 instead of the normal 0 to 360 which I guess gives the user more control of the specific color they want to implement. I had to scale these values to the frequency range I wanted for the hue and brightness. Through trial and error, I decided that 100-3900 Hz was a good range so that people of all ages could hear the lowest and highest frequencies. For the amplitude dictated by the saturation, I could just use the direct value as SoundVolume. I made it so that the sound for each pixel had a duration of 0.1 seconds for demonstrative purposes. In the real world, I would think that this should be a lot smaller so that images don't take too long to hear.

getHSB[image_] := 
  RGBColor /@ 
     image, ({1, 1} + #) & /@ 
      HilbertCurve[Log[2, ImageDimensions[image][[1]]]][[1]], "Byte"],
     255.], "HSB"]
hueToFrequencyMatch[HSB_] := Rescale[HSB[[1]], {0, 1}, {100, 3900}]
saturationToAmplitudeMatch[HSB_] := HSB[[2]]
brightnessToFrequencyMatch[HSB_] := 
 Rescale[HSB[[3]], {0, 1}, {100, 3900}]
soundFrequency[frequency_] := 
 Sound[Play[Sin[frequency*2 Pi t], {t, 0, 0.1}]]
soundFrequencyVolume[frequency_, ampSaturation_] := 
 Sound[soundFrequency[frequency], SoundVolume -> ampSaturation]

After this, I just had to apply these functions over the HSB values of each pixel in the order dictated by the appropriate pseudo-Hilbert Curve, and then merge the hue sound and saturation+brightness sound as separate audio channels.

convertHToSound[image_] := 
 soundFrequency /@ hueToFrequencyMatch /@ getHSB[image] // AudioJoin
convertBSToSound[picture_] :=
 (soundList = {}; n = 1;
  While[n <= Length@getHSB[picture],
     getHSB[picture][[n]] // brightnessToFrequencyMatch, 
     getHSB[picture][[n]] // saturationToAmplitudeMatch]];
convertHSBToSound[audio1_, audio2_] := 
 AudioChannelCombine[{audio1, audio2}]

Because hue is the most important color characteristic, I wanted to emphasize this AudioChannel more. Thus,

editChannel2[audio_, factor_] := AudioPan[audio, -factor]

To put everything together, I made a separate function to organize the results.

seperateTable[picture_] :=
  Module[{a = convertHToSound[picture], b = soundList // AudioJoin},
   c = editChannel2[convertHSBToSound[a, b], 0.05];
   table = 
    Grid[{{Image[picture, ImageSize -> 100], a, b, c}, {Blank[], 
       AudioPlot@a, AudioPlot@b, AudioPlot@c}}];
    1 -> Prepend[
      First[table], {"Image", "Hue", "Saturation+Brightness", 

These were my results. I will attach the hsb1 and hsb2 sound files to this post, along with my notebook.

Final image to sound representation. Because they use two channels, you should use earbuds or headphones so that you can clearly differentiate the sounds coming through your left and right ears. Spectrogram of <em>hsb1 and <em>hsb2</em>

Visualizing the Process

animate[image_, audio_] :=
    Module[{list = ({1, 1} + #) & /@ 
    HilbertCurve[Log[2, ImageDimensions[image][[1]]]][[1]]},
    ReplacePixelValue[Image[image, ImageSize -> 100], 
     list[[1 ;; index]] -> Orange],
    {index, 1, list // Length, 1}, 
    DefaultDuration -> 
      UnitConvert[Quantity[audio // Duration, "Seconds"]]], 
    AnimationRepetitions -> 1])]

I used this to create the following two animations. If you ran these programs, the HSB sound would play alongside the animation, showing exactly which pixel correlates to each sound. Unfortunately, I couldn't play the audio here on the post, but it is in the attached notebook if you would like to see. Here is what it looks like:

<em>hsb1 Conversion <em>hsb2 Conversion

Future Work

In the future, I hope to create a machine learning algorithm that can learn this association between audio and image in reverse (recreate the image from audio). If anyone has any ideas or pointers for me, please share in the comments below - I would really appreciate it!

Updated Information:

Presented work at the New Hampshire Science & Engineering Expo and won the Office of Naval Research award.

Youtube Link: Video Presentation

10 Replies

AudioLoudness can compute different loudness definitions. Units are mentioned in the reference page.

"RMSAmplitude" gives root mean square of the values and for a typical audio data being in -1 to 1 range, will return values in the 0 to 1 range.

See this:

a = ExampleData[{"Audio", "DogBark"}];
Show[AudioPlot[a, PlotLayout -> "Averaged"], 
 ListLinePlot[AudioLocalMeasurements[a, "RMSAmplitude"], 
  PlotStyle -> Red]]

enter image description here

Nice post, Srinath. You can use AudioLoudness or AudioLocalMeasurements ("RMSAmplitude" property) to get a time series of loudness/amplitudes for an audio object.

enter image description here - Congratulations! This post is now featured in our Staff Pick column as distinguished by a badge on your profile of a Featured Contributor! Thank you, keep it coming, and consider contributing your work to the The Notebook Archive!

Try computing max instead of RMS amplitudes:

AudioLocalMeasurements[a, "Max"]

You can also control the granularity of the partitions using PartitionGranularity. e.g.:

AudioLocalMeasurements[a, "Max", PartitionGranularity -> .01]

Does anyone know if there is a way to find the relative SoundVolume of a sound clip at a specific point? This would help me create a backwards algorithm that can convert the sounds back to images.

Does anyone know how to do this? Without it, I have resorted to creating a massive association of HSB to audio files which is inefficient.

Hi Ms. Ashnai,

Thank you for your reply! I am trying to use AudioLoudness, but I am having a bit of trouble deciphering the scale of the y-axis. Is there a way to rescale the loudness values back to {0,1} to match SoundVolume?

Hello Ms. Ashnai,

In the below image, the SValues list represents the saturation values of pixels of the image (all ranging from 0 to 1). These values are what I used directly for SoundVolume values of the audio. As you can see from the AudioPlot, because as you said, RMSAmplitude is the root mean square, I am not able to get the peak values. Is there a way to read the loudness levels at the top of each bar (every 0.1 seconds) in the AudioPlot?

Thank you,


RMSAmplitude vs. True Values

I was wondering if there is a way I could do this process in reverse using machine learning to simulate a human learning the association between sound and pixel color to create images from audio.

Posted 1 year ago

It's working now. Thank you!

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