Invention Of The Week? Gadget Helps Blind People ‘See’ Through Their Tongues

“We don’t see with our eyes, we see with our brains,” says Robert Beckman, who is the President and CEO of Wicab Inc. in Middleton, Wisconsin.

His company has developed the BrainPort V100, a device that helps blind people ‘see’ again through the use of their tongues.

The gadget is cutting-edge in every sense and marks a huge breakthrough in the world of science.

Wicab Inc: 2015Wicab Inc: 2015

The battery-powered device has a very small video camera that is connected to a pair of dark glasses. A cable from the glasses is connected to a flat-oral-like-device. The oral device has a variety of electrodes and when it touches the tongue it allows blind people to identify where they are, and it also allows them to process the size and shape of objects and surroundings all around them.

Seeing Is Believing

Cutting-edge software transforms the moving images that are captured through the video camera into electrical signals “that are then sent to the intra-oral device and perceived as vibrations or tingling on the user’s tongue. “

Of course with plenty of training in the real world users will get to learn and interpret the signals in order to figure out the exact “location, position, size, and shape of objects, and to determine if objects are moving or stationary.” 

“People are able to learn to interpret these patterns of bubbles or stimulation on their tongue to know what object is in front of them,” explains Beckman. “We don't want to create false hopes… They need to learn the technology and practice with it. It's more akin to learning a new language than it is to ordinary perception.”

Beckman and his team tested 74 subjects with the BrainPort V100. Sixty-nine per cent of them successfully passed the object recognition trails following almost twelve months of training.

New Hope For The Blind

A present there are over 1.2 million people in the United States who are blind, and this number is expected to rise to over 2 million in 2030 and over 4 million by 2050, according to the National Eye Institute.

The launch of this gadget is timely and will certainly bring new hope for the blind now and in the future. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration have just approved Wicab Inc. to market the BrainPort V100, and this may mean that we could see more similar sensory-technology become commercially available. 

“Medical device innovations like this have the potential to help millions of people,” says William Maisel, who heads up the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “It is important we continue advancing device technology to help blind Americans live better, more independent lives.”

There are some minor side effects with using the BrainPort V100, but nothing serious. They include a minor burning or stinging feeling on the tongue, and the intra-oral device leaves a metallic after taste, but not for very long.

The device won’t be cheap however. According to Wicab Inc. the gadget will cost around $10,000.00 (USD). As technology advances their goal is to bring its cost down.

Will this gadget be a commercial success with it being so costly? Of course – people who were born blind or those who have become blind following an accident or illness/disease will go to great lengths to see the world around them, which of course allows them to become more independent.

One thing is for sure the BrainPort V100 will pave the way for more new and exciting sensory inventions for the blind.

Yes, the future looks bright.