FDA Approves Device That Lets Blind "See with Tongue"
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved marketing efforts for the BrainPort V100, a non-invasive device that will allow blind people to "see" using their sense of taste.
The neuroscientist behind the device, the late Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita, believed in “sensory substitution” a process where signals from one sense, such as sight, are fed into the brain circuits of another, such as taste. The idea is that if one sensor is broken, another sensor can be used to feed visual information to the brain.
The device looks like a square plastic lollipop and sits on the tongue connected by a wire to a tiny video camera mounted on a pair of sunglasses the user wears. Images are converted to electrical impulses and can be felt on the tongue as vibrations or tingling. With training, the user learns to interpret those signals and determine size, shape, position of objects and even “taste” if they are moving.
Based on the clinical data of safety and effectiveness studies, the FDA decided to approve the device. Studies showed that 69 percent of device users who completed a year’s training were able to correctly pass object recognition tests.
This medical device has the ability to significantly improve the quality of life of people not just living with blindness, but also may pave the way for other devices that can help people with other sensory disabilities.