Imaging the brain at multiple scales: how to integrate multi...
Blind man sees with his tongue... no really.
Standard procedure after getting hit in the face with a rocket propelled grenade and losing your sight in Iraq, is to go on living life as a blind person. Lance Corporal Craig Lundberg, a 24 year-old soldier from Merseyside, was faced with this fate in 2007. Last month however, his life changed completely. He became an ideal candidate for the British Ministry of Defence, in their desire to test some revolutionary technology they call "BrainPort", in the hope of acquiring, something they call "lingual vision". The essence of lingual vision being that you can see what's around you with your tongue. No really.
So how exactly does seeing with your taste buds work? The BrainPort device is fundamentally a camera lodged in the user's glasses, which sends a signal to a device innovitavely called the "lollipop", on which the user sucks. The lollipop posseses hundreds of electrodes which stimulate the visual part of the brain as the images from the camera are turned into a series of electrical pulses, allowing the user to vaguely distinguish the shapes in front of him or her.
This truly is a breakthrough in contemporary technologies aimed at helping the blind. But so to what extent can the BrainPort be used? Lundberg described the sensation like this: "You get lines and shapes of things, it sees in black and white so you get a two dimensional image on your tongue, it's a bit like a pins and needles sensation". He was therefore able to identify shapes and objects, and also read a series of words. Lundberg also claimed licking the lollipop was similar to licking a nine volt battery... although the article sadly doesn't explain how Lundberg knows what licking a nine volt battery feels like. Of course this lingual vision is still in its beginning stages and the potential is clearly huge. Already, the BrainPort has fascilitated daily activities for Lundberg as he spoke about how picking up objects has become much easier, as well as spotting obstacles in the hallway.
Of course the current version of the lollipop isn't optimal yet as users are unable to speak or eat while using the device, so designers hope to diminish its size so that it could be permenantly fixed to the roof of the mouth enabling more natural use.
Whatever happens though, it has become apparent that the talk about this device has set tongues wagging. Do you see what I did there? Well thanks to BrainPort, Craig Lundberg may too some day.
BBC News: Blinded Merseyside soldier 'sees' with tongue device, March 13 2010