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Input Devices Science

BrainPort Lets the Blind "See" With Their Tongues 131

Hugh Pickens 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.
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BrainPort Lets the Blind "See" With Their Tongues

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  • Nothing new here... (Score:4, Informative)

    by imikedaman ( 1268650 ) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @10:51PM (#29160267)
    I'm pretty sure I read about this exact thing years ago. Weren't there issues with the tongue being "low resolution" and interfering with eating and talking?
  • by curmudgeon99 ( 1040054 ) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:03PM (#29160331)
    The human brain is adept at processing pattern streams. These are two-dimensional datasets that change over regular intervals of time. In the specific case of this tongue-sight project, they are taking advantage of the ability of the tongue to transmit many "pixels" of sensory information in a square grid. Which pins poked into the tongue governed what the brain got that instant of time. So, by reading the changing pattern of the dots, the brain can learn to process that pattern stream in the same way it learns to process the pattern stream that is the million or so "pixels" of information each eye sends, each unit of time. The left brain hemisphere processes Linear-Sequential Information. The right brain hemisphere processes Visual-Simultaneous Information. We know that from the Nobel-prize-winning [1980] research of Dr. Roger Sperry. Current computers process information in a linear, sequential fashion--much like the left hemisphere works. The true breakthroughs in AI will come when we can process and interpret the pattern streams that reach the right hemisphere, the image-oriented streams. The complex interplay between the faster linear-sequential hemisphere and the holistic visual-simultaneous hemisphere is what creates consciousness. This tongue-stream is a great idea.
  • by johncadengo ( 940343 ) on Saturday August 22, 2009 @11:21PM (#29160419) Homepage

    Sure, the resolution won't be as fine but it will be a lot less obtrusive to wear a sensor wrapped around your torso than to have something on your tongue with a wire sticking out of your mouth.

    A practical version of that sensor net the blind lady wore on Star Trek back in the '60s will likely be on the market before 2067, assuming technology doesn't leapfrog it entirely.

    From TFA:

    The key to the device may be its utilization of the tongue, which seems to be an ideal organ for sensing electrical current. Saliva there functions as a good conductor, Seiple said. Also it might help that the tongue's nerve fibers are densely packaged and that these fibers are closer to the tongue's surface relative to other touch organs. (The surfaces of fingers, for example, are covered with a layer of dead cells called stratum corneum.)

  • by mikael ( 484 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @12:07AM (#29160643)

    A whole load of links done with the Google search modifier

    Slashdot 2006 []

    PBS 2007 []

    Slashdot 2008 []

    Sensory substitution []

  • Wonderful! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Zitchas ( 713512 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @12:12AM (#29160685) Journal
    I don't have the link ready to hand, but the technology behind this was posted to slashdot quiet a while ago. (At least many months, possibly over a year ago) Anyway, I was wondering when we would hear about this technology again, since it has tremendous potential both for sight-restoration applications, as well as furthur development towards the integration of machine and brains. If the resolution was high enough, for instance, a pilot could use this to see underneath the plane, or in other directions normally blocked. The potential application for guided search and rescue, and other remote controlled devices is also large. "being" there is better than simply seeing on a screen, after all, even if virtually. I hope that the various gov't and none-profit groups that support the visually impaired take note of this as a way to help people become active and contributing parts of society again. It's nice to take care of the impaired, but better to help them regain their independence.
  • by The_mad_linguist ( 1019680 ) on Sunday August 23, 2009 @04:17PM (#29165955)

    Older than that. From September 1, 2001: []

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