See what you feel?
A blind English soldier will soon benefit from a new device that will allow him to actually see using his tongue.
It is called “BrainPort vision” and works with technology based upon "sensory substitution". The principle is that the major part of our vision is located in our brain, the eyes only being the input channel. Therefore visual perception in the brain can be restored using an alternate sensor and input channel, such as a digital camera providing visual signals through the tongue.
The whole system consists of a postage-stamp-size electrode array for the upper surface of the tongue, a plastic base unit, a plastic digital video camera, and a hand-held controller for zoom and contrast inversion. Visual information is collected from the user-adjustable head-mounted camera (FOV range 3–90 degrees) and sent to the base unit. It translates the visual information into a stimulation pattern displayed on the tongue.
The tactile image is created by presenting white pixels from the camera as strong stimulation, black pixels as no stimulation, and gray levels as medium levels of stimulation, with the ability to invert contrasts when appropriate. Study participants who tested the device felt that pictures were being painted on their tongue with Champagne bubbles.
With the current system (arrays containing 100 to 600+ electrodes), they have been able to recognize high-contrast objects, their location, movement, and some aspects of perspective and depth. Trained blind participants use information from the tongue display to augment understanding of the environment.
Wicab is currently working on improvements to the tongue display and on device miniaturization. Plastics are known for “doing more with less”. This should be another area to display this quality.
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