writes "Scientific American reports that a new device called 'BrainPort' aims to restore the experience of vision for the blind and visually impaired by relying on the nerves on the tongue's surface to send light signals to the brain. BrainPort collects visual data through a small digital video camera and converts the signal into electrical pulses sent to the tongue via a 'lollipop' that sits directly on the tongue, where densely packed nerves receive the incoming electrical signals. White pixels yield a strong electrical pulse and the electrodes spatially correlate with the pixels, so that if the camera detects light fixtures in the middle of a dark hallway, electrical stimulations will occur along the center of the tongue. Within 15 minutes of using the device, blind people can begin interpreting spatial information. 'At first, I was amazed at what the device could do,' says research director William Seiple. 'One guy started to cry when he saw his first letter.'"
There is some indication that the signals from the tongue are processed by the visual cortex. The company developing the BrainPort will submit it to the FDA for approval later this month, and it could be on sale (for around $10,000) by the end of the year.