Helping the Blind “See”

Although, it is not the first device to go on the market using sensory substitution (where information perceived by one sense is communicated through another), BrainPort V100, for the blind, is a great relief. This device, may be paving the way for an explosion of sensory substitution devices to hit the market in the next few years, which could help the growing numbers of people with sensory impairments.

brainport v100

brainport v100

The BrainPort V100 consists of a pair of dark glasses and tongue-stimulating electrodes connected to a handheld battery-operated device. When cameras in the glasses pick up visual stimuli, software converts the information to electrical pulses sent as vibrations to be felt on the user’s tongue.
Like most sensory substitution devices, “seeing” with one’s tongue may not be intuitive at first. But the researchers who developed the device tested it over the course of a year, training users to interpret the vibrations. Studies showed that 69 per cent of the test subjects were able to identify an object using the BrainPort device after a year of training.

It includes a video camera mounted on a pair of sunglasses. The camera works in a variety of lighting conditions and has an adjustable field of view when zoomed. The tongue array contains 400 electrodes and is connected to the glasses via a flexible cable. White pixels from the camera are felt on the tongue as strong stimulation, black pixels as no stimulation, and gray levels as medium levels of stimulation. Users report the sensation as pictures that are painted on the tongue with tiny bubbles. A small hand-held unit provides user controls and houses a rechargeable battery. The system will run for approximately three hours on a single charge.

With the Food and Drug Administration announcement that Wicab, manufacturer of BrainPort V100, can market the device openly, those with poor eyesight are in for a jolly good experience.

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