Electric lollipop allows the blind to see with their tongues

BrainPort is a device developed by the neuroscientists at Wicab, inc. that allows blind or visually impaired people to see again. This is accomplished by sending visual data from camera glasses to the brain via the nerves of your tongue using an electric lollipop. No invasive brain surgery required.

With BrainPort […] visual data are collected through a small digital video camera about 1.5 centimeters in diameter that sits in the center of a pair of sunglasses worn by the user.

Bypassing the eyes, the data are transmitted to a handheld base unit, which is a little larger than a cell phone. This unit houses such features as zoom control, light settings and shock intensity levels as well as a central processing unit (CPU), which converts the digital signal into electrical pulses—replacing the function of the retina.

From the CPU, the signals are sent to the tongue via a “lollipop,” an electrode array about nine square centimeters that sits directly on the tongue. Each electrode corresponds to a set of pixels. White pixels yield a strong electrical pulse, whereas black pixels translate into no signal.

Densely packed nerves at the tongue surface receive the incoming electrical signals, which feel a little like Pop Rocks or champagne bubbles to the user. [Scientific American]

The major disadvantage to the BrainPort is that you can’t see and and speak at the same time with the electric lollipop in your mouth. Whatever you do, don’t drive and speak on the phone while using this device at the same time!

Via io9.

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