BrainPort V100 Helps Visually Impaired People to See from Their Tongues

The BrainPort V100 helps people with visual disabilities to navigate through day-to-day activities independently. This is an assistive wearable that allows the wearer to use his tongue. Though, it needs supervision and training to be able to use the device easily. As of now, the makers have tested the device on people with no usable vision, acquired vision impairment and congenitally blindness. BrainPort V100 works on sensory substitution, in which the information is perceived with one sense and is communicated by another. The BrainPort V100 is essentially a pair of sunglasses with a video camera mounted on it. The video camera is capable to work in several lighting condition and can zoom in or zoom out. A flexible cable connects 400 electrodes of tongue array and glasses together.

BrainPort-V100

The pixels of camera are conveyed and felt on the tongue of the user. Black pixels produce no stimulation, gray poses moderate simulation and white is translated into strong spur. The sensation of pixels is conveyed as pictures by the user. The device can be controlled by a hand-held unit and runs on a battery that lasts about 3 hours on one charge.

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This technology can assist the caretakers with rehabilitation of people with visual impairment. Though the complexity of device demands supervision and requires conventional training to be completed. It is also recommended that users should be comfortable using traditional assistive tools before beginning training with BrainPort V100 and to use the device independently.

To help users to adapt with the device, the training manual and content is customized as per user’s need. A minimum 10 hour of one-on-one training session is recommended over two weeks’ span including complete information and interpretation of device controls and sensory information.

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Usually, such devices with medical implications take forever to get approval from FDA. Wicab, the company which manufactured BrainPort V100 has got one and isn’t the only one FDA-approved medical device with sensory substitution in the market, using tongue to translate and convey perception of the eyes. The BrainPort V100 becomes one of the first devices to work on sensory substitution to get FDA approval and passed the ‘premarket review pathway’ that can be roughly translated as “a regulatory pathway for some low- to moderate-risk medical devices that are not substantially equivalent to an already legally-marketed device.”

The BrainPort V100 price will remain the similar to what was announced in 2009 upon its introduction, which is $10,000 per unit. The technology is costly but as reported by Gizmag and Popular Science, it could well be the beginning of an unexplored market. Since more than one million American become legally blind as the approach 40, this non-invasive therapy can help them restore their vision as well as create a new market for such devices in the years to come.

It is to be noted that Wicab Inc. is based in Wisconsin and is the brainchild of famous late neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita who believed that humans see from their brain and not eyes.

As it can be very difficult to adapt to such technology, the researchers have tested the device for over a year on users. At present 4 patients are using BrainPort for training at Lighthouse International, a non-profit vision health care and research organization. According to the Research Director William Seiple, it takes about 15 minutes to start interpretation of the images and the process involves intense learning. If the BrainPort V100 becomes a successful thing to start with, this could help the patients to find their own way, see number on elevator button and reading numbers as well as addresses.

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