Device Worn on Tongue Allows the Blind to See

For the past 10 years researchers at the University of Wisconsin have been working on making a device that delivers censorial input to the tongue via a matrix of electrodes worn inside the mouth. Using a camera, a computer, and the input device, individuals who have been blind their whole lives are now able to use this relatively simple and non-invasive device to see basic images. Applications for this technology range far and wide, not to mention all the awesome ideas for Instructables that come to mind.

More info from the research page...

What we have developed is a generic and flexible way to communicate information to people using an array or matrix of small electric stimulators on the surface of the tongue. In much the same way that people can use their fingertips to read Braille letters, which are patterns of raised dots embossed onto a sheet of paper, people can recognize simple spatial patterns using comfortable electrical stimulation of the tongue. For example, we published a preliminary study about two years ago showing that volunteer experimental test subjects could identify very simple geometric patterns such as circles, squares, and triangles. They identified these figures as accurately on the tongue as on the fingertips. And that's when we became excited about the possibilities for a tongue-based electrotactile display, electrotactile being the technical term for electrical stimulation of the sense of touch.

The electrical stimulus on the tongue feels like a tingle or vibration; some users have said it feels like soda bubbles. The sensation is well-controlled and not painful unless the user deliberately turns up the level too high. Occasionally it will produce weak metallic taste sensations, a minor side effect. We have never observed any kind of tissue irritation with the gold-plated electrodes.

1. One of the applications which has been commercialized is providing vestibular or balance information for people with balance disorders. This is a simple form of sensory substitution, in which the tongue is used to present information from an artificial balance sensor.

2. Another application is providing directional or navigational information for people who operate under central command and control scenarios, such as military and civilian rescue personnel. Providing information via the tongue allows them to fully use their vision and hearing to respond to unforeseen threats or hazards. We have shown in the laboratory that it is possible to navigate a virtual maze (like a simple video game) using only information received on the tongue (i.e., buzz on right side of tongue means turn right, etc.).

3. A third, more ambitious application would be providing very crude visual information through the tongue for persons who are completely blind. Our colleague Eliana Sampaio at the Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg, France has used our tongue stimulator with a small video camera and demonstrated an equivalent visual acuity of about 20-to-830, which is very poor vision, but possibly useful for certain limited activities with enough practice. Wicab, Inc continues to improve this technology with the aim of commercializing it.

4. A fourth application would be providing tactile feedback to the human operators of robots used for various tasks. For example, UW professor Nicola Ferrier is developing a robot controlled by the tongue of persons with quadriplegia which could incorporate touch sensors into its gripper, relaying the touch information back to the user's tongue.

This summary taken from Synopsis of Tongue Display Technology 1/3/2008. Lots more information on the research page.

More info on the general process of electrotactile stimulation here.
(I can't believe that I am actually linking to How Stuff Works for this, but hey, there isn't an Instructable written for everything...yet.)

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jeff-o9 years ago
I just saw a documentary about this same technology. I wonder if a similar sensor could be wired to the inside of one's arm to provide additional peripheral sensory information?
The advantage of the tongue is that it has a higher density of nerve endings than most other parts of the body, so the resolution possible is much higher. I suppose it might be possible to make a version that uses the nerve endings in the genitals which also have a high nerve density, but that has obvious drawbacks.
Hmmm, ew. And, ouch. Perhaps palm of the hand would be a better alternative?
PKM jeff-o8 years ago
Or the fingertips of a glove?
Dr.Paj9 years ago
Hmm...I hope it's not made in China, they will get lead poisoning for sure, being on the tongue and all.
Fatvod9 years ago
I saw this in Wired. Another project like this is the feelspace belt. These types of things fascinate me.
lamedust9 years ago
That's amazingly good timing! I'm supposed to give a background of previous work done for my current scholastic research project. I'm trying to make a simple version of this, but instead of visual information, I'll be sending IR and compass direction. I can use the link to the research presented here. I first heard about this technology from the book On Intelligence, which I strongly recommend. _BG