Visually impaired people can now detect their surroundings using a camera and a small device held on the tongue. Wicab Technology’s BrainPort converts visual data into tiny electrical signals. The tongue is sensitive enough to detect the patterns on an electrode array. With training, the brain learns to process the data in both the somatosensory cortex and the visual cortex. This sensory substitution device represents hope for the visually impaired. Visual impairment can be caused by eye disease, genetic eye conditions, congenital defects, or injury.
Users wear a camera on a pair of glasses. The camera is attached to a controller that they hold. The controller is about the size of a smartphone. It lets the user adjust the contrast and other settings. A wire leads from the controller to a plastic rectangle, a bit bigger than a postage stamp. The rectangle contains an electrode array that stimulates the tongue when held in the mouth.
BrainPort helps people identify objects in their surroundings. After training, users can navigate a hallway and stop a rolling ball. They can tell the difference between objects with 80% accuracy. They can even read individual words on a flashcard.
You can try out your tongue’s reading skills at home:
- Purchase a bag of Newman’s Own Alphabet Cookies.
- Without looking at the letter, place a cookie face-down on your tongue.
- Guess the letter. It will be reversed.
- Look at the letter on the cookie and see how you did.
- Eat the cookie.
- Repeat until you can detect all letters. Your brain has learned how to read using your tongue!
BrainPort was approved by the FDA in 2015. Thus, the technology may be widespread in the future. See their website for the latest updates.
Note: If you have an eye disease, you may still be able to maintain and preserve vision. Natural Eye Care offers knowledge and targeted nutritional supplements. Check out our conditions page for more information.