Device that can help blind see through tongue wins FDA approval: Device is placed in mouth and registers low intensity signal as gentle electrical stimulus.

A new device developed for the legally blind may help them “see” through electric stimulation on their tongues. Technology is gaining momentum with each passing day especially health technology. Devices and procedures considered impossible 30 years ago are now occurring and giving hope to many lives.

According to the National Eye Institute, affiliated with the National Institute of Health, 1.2 million Americans are afflicted with blindness. The numbers are expected to rise in the coming years.

People afflicted with blindness in losing one of the five major senses, start relying more on the other four senses particularly touch and smell which become enhanced in them as to make up for the loss.

A battery operated device known as the BrainPort V100 has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The device was developed by Wicab.Inc which is based in Middleton, Wisconsin and it utilized electrical signals on the tongues of the visually impaired to help them “see”.

The device consists of three parts:  a pair of dark sunglasses which has a camera attached to it, a hand held controller and a stimulation device. It requires no surgery.

The camera in the sunglasses can take pictures of whatever is in front of a person and then relay the image data through the hand controller to the electrodes on the stimulation device.

The stimulation is lollipop like gadget in a square shape. This device is placed in the mouth and registers the signal as gentle electrical stimulus, which is of low intensity. Around 400 electrical stimulations can be produced by the device that registers on the wearer’s tongue.

The fascinating thing about this is that this stimulation of the blind people’s tongue actually activated their visual cortex where images are formed. In normal people, however, this would just feel like tactile stimulation or a buzzing sensation.

The FDA conducted trials in which 74 subjects had to identify objects and it was found that almost 70% of the participants were able to correctly recognize the objects.

Dr. William Maisel, chief scientist in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said, “Medical device innovations like these 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.”

Although the device is revolutionary as it could help blind people gain some independence of movement without resorting to touching and feeling their way around but the fact remains that this would not be akin to them gaining back their sight.

Furthermore rather than completely replacing assisting implements such as guide dog and white sticks, this device is reportedly meant to augment them. The user can interpret the signals and determine through their tongue information about objects such as position, shape, size and whether they are moving or not.

Those with vision impairment can receive training to understand the usage of the device. There are various

Side effects in those who tested the device consisted of a burning sensation on the tongue as well as a metallic taste from continuous use but no other, serious side effects have been reported.

The downside of the device is that it will initially be available on the market for $10,000, which is very steep. It is hoped that the price would decrease as the device usage increases among those with blindness so that more people can have access to it.