Thursday, the FDA approved a recent device made to give the visually impaired the ability to get a general spacial awareness of their surroundings through their mouths – specifically, their tongues. Made by Wicab Inc. from Wisconsin, the ‘BrainPort V100’ is essentially a pair of glasses with a camera mounted in the center that converts visual information into electrical stimuli which is then felt by the user when the lolli-pop-like sensor is placed on their tongues.
In test studies, 69 percent of the 74 trial patients who underwent a year’s worth of testing the device were able to successfully recognize objects while operating it. The BrainPort leaves a tingling sensation and ‘bubble-like’ patterns on the user’s tongue, which not only lets them “see” the size and shape of an object, but also tells them the difference in lighting and whether or not an object is moving. It’s effectively electrical braille for your tongue.
Amy Nau, Director of UPMC Eye Center Sensory Substitution Lab in Pittsburgh assured that the testing process was as broad as possible, saying “we were very careful to try to include people with different types of blindness, different durations of blindness, as well as congenital blindness, and so far its able to work with everybody.”
“We’re excited about this technology because we think it provides an opportunity for patients who have no vision to have increased mobility and independence.”
The chief scientist at FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health confirmed the importance of this device, saying in a statement:
“Medical device innovations like this have the potential to help millions of people. It is important we continue advancing device technology to help blind Americans live better, more independent lives.”
While the technology is certainly exciting, it’s not yet capable of aiding visually impaired individuals entirely on its own. In fact, the apparatus was designed to be used alongside other forms of assistance such as guide dogs and canes. It’s currently battery powered, able to last off of a single charge for several hours, but as it becomes more common among blind people it will be interesting to see how the technology advances. It’s been in development for several years now, and was already approved for use in Europe back in 2013.
See a video demonstration of the BrainPort v100 here: