The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new device that can help blind people process visual images with their tongues.
BrainPort V100 manufactured by Wicab in Middleton, Wisconsin, is a battery-powered device that uses camera attached to a pair of glasses and a minuscule lollipop-type mouthpiece that has nearly 400 electrodes.
The camera detects objects in front of the user, which are altered into electrical signals. These signals also cause a tingling sensation, which can map what the camera is seeing onto the tongue, allowing the user to get a general idea of what is ahead.
The user learns to interpret the signals with training and experience. The device helps to determine the location, position, size and shape of objects and to determine if the objects are moving or stationary.
"Medical device innovations like this 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," said Dr William Maisel, deputy director for science and chief scientist in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
FDA says conducted studies over a year to determine the effectiveness of the device. Almost 70 percent of the 74 subjects were able to identify objects successfully in recognition tests.
BrainPort is very expensive, costa about $10,000. It does not restore vision, it complements other forms of assistance meant for blind people, such as guide dogs and sticks, rather than replacing them. The device can apparently run for hours on a single charge.