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The electronic device that allows blind people to 'see' using their tongue

Posted on 5:59 PM by Sameer Shah

A groundbreaking electronic device will allow blind people to 'see' using their tongues, scientists have claimed.

The extraordinary technology takes pictures filmed by a tiny camera and turns the information into electrical pulses which can be felt on the tongue.

Tests show that the nerves send messages to the brain which turn these tingles back into pictures.

People using the device, which resembles a pair of sunglasses attached by cable to a plastic lollipop, say that with fewer than 20 hours training they can make out shapes and even read signs.



Scientists say learning to picture images felt on the tongue is similar to learning to ride a bicycle.

The BrainPort vision device is expected to go on sale later this year.

It collects visual data through a small digital video camera about one inch in diameter that sits in the middle of a pair of sunglasses worn by the user.

This information is transmitted to a handheld control unit, which is about the size of a mobile phone.

The unit converts the digital signal into electrical pulses and sends this to the tongue via the lollipop that sits on the tongue.

The lollipop contains a square grid of 600 electrodes which pulsate according to how much light is in that area of the picture.

White pixels have a strong pulse while black pixels give no signal.



Densely packed nerves on the surface of the tongue receive the incoming electrical signals, which tingle a little like champagne bubbles.

The control unit allows users to zoom in and out and control light settings and electric shock intensity.

People can begin interpreting information via the BrainPort within 15 minutes of using the device, says William Seiple, research director at vision healthcare and research organisation Lighthouse International which has been testing it.

Dr Seiple works with four patients who train with the BrainPort once a week and says they have learned how to quickly find doorways and read letters and numbers.

They have also been able to pick out cups and forks at the dinner table without having to fumble around.

Dr Seiple said: 'At first, I was amazed at what the device could do. One guy started to cry when he saw his first letter.'

Robert Beckman, president of Wicab which is developing the BrainPort, said: 'It enables blind people to gain perception of their surroundings, displayed on their tongue.

'It enables them to identify objects, like a ball, or distinguish letters of the alphabet.

'They cannot necessarily read a book but they can read a sign.'

Mr Beckman envisages the device being used to improve people's mobility and safety.

Wicab neuroscientist Aimee Arnoldussen said: 'It becomes a task of learning, no different than learning to ride a bike.

'The process is similar to how a baby learns to see.'

Users must learn to move their heads around to survey images, objects, and surroundings - just as sighted people move their eyes.

Arnoldussen structures the training to encourage users to first identify what they know, putting contextual knowledge to work in deducing an object’s identity or spatial orientation - such as recognising that the vertical lines under a chair are likely to be its legs.

By building exercises around perceiving directional orientation and shape of objects, discerning letters and shapes of various sizes, following black-line pathways delineated on a warehouse floor, and recognising standing and suspended barriers in an obstacle course, Arnoldussen has led over 20 blind subjects to remarkable levels of success.

Wicab, based in Middleton, Wisconsin, is submitting BrainPort to the US Food and Drug Administration for approval this month.

It could be approved for market by the end of the year at a cost of about £6,000.

Wicab, which has collaborated with Lighthouse International and the University of Pittsburgh in America, is looking to work with UK organisations as well.

1 Response to "The electronic device that allows blind people to 'see' using their tongue"

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Pilland Says....

Your report is very interesting indeed.
I invite You to see a great collection of views of borders (riigipiirid) in my Italian-Estonian site http://www.pillandia.blogspot.com
Helping text in 30 different languages too.
Best wishes from Italy!