Both of them leverage the fact that our sensory organs are just transducers which give inputs to a really flexible and remarkable signal processing system called the brain. This makes it possible to use one sensory organ to achieve a similar result to that of another. Sensory substitution.
In a very indirect way, sign-language or braille could be considered as external sense substitutions. But these two instances that I came across thanks to Engadget and Google, a few months ago, are much more direct. Interestingly, this article from HowStuffWorks seems to suggest that folks have been trying this since the 1900s!
The first is called BrainPort (their corporate site talks about a more clinical use of their product).
Essentially, here vision is being substituted by taste!
Do watch the following video:
And heres the second one.
Check out this browser screenshot to know how I came across this ;-)
I think this (seeingwithsound) is a way cooler solution. The interface is much more natural and amenable to daily use. Well, here, vision is being substituted by stereo sound - almost sonar.
In case you want to try what this feels like, just download their free windows software winvoice, plug in your web cam and put on a stereo headset. Definitely has room for improvement, but I like the ease and simplicity it offers (they even have j2me, winmo and android mobile phone app versions!).
The best part - both of them are non-invasive, non-risky and do not cost a lot. I hope this helps a lot of people who really need it now. Certainly good news.