There’s a new technology that enables blind people to “see” and it’s right on the tip of the tongue. The medical device works by turning images into sensations that blind people can feel on their tongues. The BrainPort, the first product of its kind in the medical device industry, recently secured Food and Drug Administration approval. The product can now be made available to the profoundly blind – people who have no sensitivity to light.
The BrainPort was developed by startup company Wicab. It works with a small video camera affixed to sunglasses. Those glasses are connected by cord to a mouthpiece that has a grid of 400 electrodes. The camera turns the video feed into digital signals that the user can feel as pulses on the grid of the mouthpiece. According to Xconomy, the feeling on the tongue is similar to “Pop Rocks” candy and is meant to create a picture in the mind that is “viewed” by the sensations on the tongue.
In clinical trials, patients were given several assessments, including object recognition and word identification, according to the FDA. After using the device for one year, 69 percent of the 74 test subjects were successful at object recognition. Though some patients reported a metallic taste associated with the BrainPort’s mouthpiece, no adverse events were reported from use of the device.
“With training and experience, the user learns to interpret the signals to determine the location, position, size, and shape of objects, and to determine if objects are moving or stationary,” the FDA said.
At $10,000 each, the Wicab device won’t come cheap. The tiny startup is counting on building sales by first getting insurance companies to cover the device. Wicab also plans to partner with philanthropic groups that might purchase the devices and provide them to those who don’t have the money or the insurance to cover it, Xconomy reported. Though the device is expensive, for the more than 250,000 profoundly blind, America BrainPort represents a new medical option unlike anything that they’ve had before.
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