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Device may help the blind perceive images using their tongues ^ | 12/14/2009 | By BARBARA ANDERSON

Posted on 12/14/2009 12:18:43 PM PST by Red Badger

FRESNO, Calif. -- An experimental device that uses the tongue instead of the eyes to "see" could be on the market next year, and a blind Fresno, Calif., teen hopes to be among the first to take one home.

Researchers say their BrainPort device does not replace the sense of sight, but lets the blind perceive images, making it easier for them to navigate their surroundings.

One group they foresee benefiting: Troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are blind because of brain injuries.

BrainPort consists of a tiny digital camera mounted on sunglasses. The camera is attached by a wire to a unit about the size of an iPhone, and the unit connects to a small electrode panel that sits on the tongue. The tongue receives electrical pulses - like popping champagne bubbles.

The sensations on the tongue create patterns that users learn to perceive as images. The strongest electrical pulses are perceived as white areas and the weaker ones as gray. There is no sensation for black areas. The user has the ability to zoom the device to amplify images.

The blind process the tactile information in the brain's visual cortex, researchers say. Those who could see before they went blind describe the sensations as similar to vision - although the resolution is not the same, they say. Those who have never had sight say they are better able to form mental pictures of objects.

Katie Schick, a 17-year-old high school junior, can't wait to try it. She began losing her sight shortly after birth and lost all vision within a couple of years.

"I could possibly go on the Internet with it," she said. "I'd like to be able to go on the computer by myself at home without my mother and father with me."

Katie's parents, Andy and Jackie Schick, would be happy if Katie could maneuver around a room with ease and get safely across a street. The device "will allow her to be more independent," Jackie Schick said.

They have not had Katie evaluated by a doctor for the device, and they don't know if it would work for her. But they're hopeful.

Jackie Schick, 43, first heard about the device when it was described in a Discovery Channel television program. She investigated it on the Internet and was so excited about getting one for Katie that she contacted a company in Canada she thought sold the device. She began making plans to raise money to pay for a trip to Canada.

More recently, she learned the device being sold in Canada is an aid for people with dizziness, not blindness. The family is postponing fund-raising until the device is available for sale in the United States.

Wicab Inc., the Wisconsin company that is developing BrainPort, could ask the federal government for permission to market BrainPort within the next few weeks, said Robert Beckham, the chief executive officer.

BrainPort researchers say the idea behind the technology is fairly simple. People "see" with their brains - not their eyes. And the brain can make visual sense out of stimulation received from parts of the body other than the eye.

"Instead of the main nerve from the eye, we're using the nervous system through the tongue," Beckham said.

The brain is pliable, he said. "It doesn't say we can't use the information because it came from the tongue."

Researchers say results from investigations of the device have been promising for people blind since birth, as well as for those who lost vision later in life.

After 10 hours wearing BrainPort, people have been able to find and walk down a hallway and avoid obstacles, said Aimee Arnoldussen, a neuroscientist who is leading Wicab's research. With the device, people also have distinguished a men's room sign from a women's room sign and found doorways, she said.

The potential for the device to help blind soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan intrigued Gale Pollock, who was surgeon general of the Army medical department in 2007.

She enlisted the help of an Army officer and a Marine corporal to assess the device before she retired. Pollock said the servicemen's response was: "Ma'am, this works. It's new. We don't think it's as far as it can go, but can you get it for us?"

Pollock, now retired from the military, is executive director of the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration in Pittsburgh, Pa., where BrainPort research is ongoing. One line of the research is limited to active-duty military and veterans.

BrainPort was invented by the late Paul Bach-y-Rita, a Wisconsin neuroscientist, who conceived of the technology in the 1960s and founded Wicab in 1998, said Wicab CEO Beckham.

The National Eye Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health, has provided funding for BrainPort research for years, said Dr. Michael Oberdorfer, director of the agency's visual neuroscience program. "It's an interesting and promising area of research," he said.

The company is still in the early stages of developing the device, Beckham said. In the next few years it's possible the device could be wireless, for example, and the receiving electrodes could be discreetly mounted on the upper palate, he said.

BrainPort can't restore vision for people who have lost it. Katie, for example, has had both eyes removed to alleviate pain. She wears artificial eyes.

"You don't put the device on and magically see," Arnoldussen said. And BrainPort isn't a substitute for a cane or a guide dog - it's another tool to help someone know their surroundings and safely navigate them, she said.

But while researchers focus on safety and mobility applications for the device, already some BrainPort test subjects have pushed the boundaries. One man climbed an indoor rock wall wearing the device, Arnoldussen said. Another shot a ball into a wastepaper basket.

Katie Schick has her own aspirations.

"I want to be able to ride a bike and play basketball - maybe some baseball," she said.

Riding a bike hasn't yet been tried, to her knowledge, Arnoldussen said. But the researcher doesn't discount the possibility - especially for Katie. "I think children like the 17-year-old are probably going to surpass our expectations," she said.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Technical
KEYWORDS: blind; eye; tongue

Looks like they have the problem licked............

1 posted on 12/14/2009 12:18:44 PM PST by Red Badger
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To: Red Badger

Blind or not, I’m kicking their butt if they try to lick me.

2 posted on 12/14/2009 12:19:45 PM PST by cripplecreek (Seniors, the new shovel ready project under socialized medicine.)
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To: cripplecreek

Reminds me of that fella’s joke about licking the alphabet.....what a hoot....

3 posted on 12/14/2009 12:21:15 PM PST by Gaffer
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To: Red Badger
Device may help the blind perceive images using their tongues

Eeeeeew! The braille copy of Playboy is damp.

4 posted on 12/14/2009 12:22:53 PM PST by KarlInOhio (Obamalaise - the new mood for America.)
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To: Red Badger

This would also be useful with a radar image of walls, curbs, and stairs, so that the tongue would show a “map” of the immediate surroundings for navigation.

5 posted on 12/14/2009 12:24:27 PM PST by Atlas Sneezed ("Personal freedom begins when you tell Old Mrs. Grundy to go to Hell." -Lazarus Long)
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To: Gaffer

Yeah, that was Sam Kinison.

6 posted on 12/14/2009 12:25:13 PM PST by MarkeyD (I support the Secret Service but not their mission.)
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To: Red Badger

I knew it, we have evolved from the snake!

7 posted on 12/14/2009 12:26:46 PM PST by fish hawk (It's sad that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. Isaac Asimov)
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To: fish hawk

Genesis 3:1
[ The Fall of Man ] Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

8 posted on 12/14/2009 12:27:43 PM PST by Red Badger (Obama - The first ever elected lame duck..............)
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To: KarlInOhio

LOL,This thread could go down hill very fast.

9 posted on 12/14/2009 12:30:22 PM PST by Paratrooper
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To: Red Badger

Ewww.....Just had a vision of what Monica Lewinsky’s tongue would see.

10 posted on 12/14/2009 12:31:36 PM PST by BubbaJunebug (s)
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To: Red Badger
Very interesting. Good article! Maybe they could hire up this guy, Pranav Mistry, to work on the project as well. (This video link has a closed captioning option, by the way, for the hearing impaired. Cool!)
11 posted on 12/14/2009 12:32:30 PM PST by mlizzy ("Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person" --Mother Teresa.)
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To: Red Badger

That’s what the snake said back in those days. Now the snake is saying, I give you Health Care and Cap and Trade. Kill your babies and I will give you clean air. Let your elders die and you will save money.

12 posted on 12/14/2009 12:42:56 PM PST by fish hawk (It's sad that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. Isaac Asimov)
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To: Red Badger

Fascinating. We can do so much - if we are allowed to be creative and inventive in response to problems, something that government “health care” will certainly halt.

Once we start restricting who deserves having their sight restored or the full resources of medical technology put at their disposal, we’ll soon find that nobody even bothers to design things like this. After all, the only people eligible to get it would be Obama and Congress, the animals that are more equal than others.

13 posted on 12/14/2009 12:45:38 PM PST by livius
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To: Red Badger
Posting this for no good reason at all:

14 posted on 12/14/2009 12:46:07 PM PST by Responsibility2nd (Ack, is that the site with "Responsibility2nd"? Some weirdo. ...)
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To: Red Badger

A cunning device, to be sure.

15 posted on 12/14/2009 12:56:58 PM PST by Fester Chugabrew
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To: Fester Chugabrew

A linguist would have a hard time with it..............

16 posted on 12/14/2009 12:59:35 PM PST by Red Badger (Obama - The first ever elected lame duck..............)
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To: Responsibility2nd

That’s creepy.

17 posted on 12/14/2009 1:00:34 PM PST by Prodigal Son
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To: Red Badger

So if I used that contraption and saw Obama on TV, I’d have a sh!tty taste in my mouth? No thanks.

18 posted on 12/14/2009 1:31:13 PM PST by TexasRepublic (Socialism is the gospel of envy and the religion of thieves)
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To: fish hawk

Now you did it!!! I haven’t thought of a snake since this mornings nightmare.

Let’s pray that this device is another step in the evolution of giving the blind the gift of sight...

19 posted on 12/14/2009 3:47:18 PM PST by tubebender (Some minds are like concrete Thoroughly mixed up and permanently set...)
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