A device that helps blind people ‘see’ with their tongues has recently earned FDA approval. The BrainPort V100, which had already been available in Europe since 2013, converts video imagery to electrotactile signals that paint a sort of picture of the world around the user. It took 15 years of research to develop the revolutionary device, and blind people in the United States can now benefit from it thanks to this recent development.
How does the BrainPort device work?
The BrainPort V100, created by Wisconsin company Wicab, uses a video camera to gather visual data. That visual data then gets translated into moderate electrical stimuli for the tongue. The device features a 400-electrode sensor array, allowing the electrical stimuli to paint a sort of feel-based image on the tongue. The electrodes as sort of like pixels, and can show locations of objects as well as their direction and speed. After some practice with the device, a blind user can use it to “see.”
69 percent of study sample population could identify objects thanks to the BrainPort device.
FDA testing showed that after a year of practice with the BrainPort V100, 69 percent of the 74 people in the study could “see” with their tongues based on an object recognition test. Word identification tests were also concluded. The only side effect of the device seems to be a slight amount of discomfort, according to the study. Some users reported a burning or stinging sensation, as well as a metallic taste from the device. Either way, the Brainport device poses no real risks to health, and a very valuable potential benefit to blind people all over the world.
Where did the idea for the BrainPort V100 originate?
The idea behind this important new device came from Paul Bach-y-Rita, an American neuroscientist who championed the idea of using neuroplasticity to treat patients with disabilities. Neuroplasticity is the changing of neural pathways and synapses due to changes in thinking, emotions, environment, behavior, as well as those resulting from injury. Bach-y-Rita developed a chair in the 1960s that would translate visual images into tactile patterns on a patient’s back. He then came up with the technology for a new idea, a brain-tongue connection, thus paving the way for the BrainPort device to help blind people today.