BrainPort – Taste the light
The blind use Braille to feel and read alphabets. What if this Braille display forms shapes to represent the surroundings? Yes, a refreshable Braille display wherein the dots rearrange themselves automatically is possible.
What is BrainPort?
An electric lollipop that assists the blind to ‘see’ using their tongue- this machine is called the BrainPort vision device.
Brainport device consists of 3 important parts:
1. A camera – that sits in the center of pair of sunglasses worn by the user. It captures the image of objects in the surroundings and sends its video output to the processor.
2. Processor/Controller – This is of a size little bigger than a mobile phone. It is a hand-held unit which translates output from the camera into a pattern of electronic pulses that are sent to an array of electrodes held against the tongue. It has other controls like voltage, camera direction etc.
3. Array of electrodes- a square shaped plate placed inside the mouth which stimulates receptor cells on the surface of the tongue to the Brain. This is how the user ‘sees’ objects.
This is an oral electronic vision aid. It works like a 400 point refreshable Braille display from which you learn to interpret (‘see’) the electrical stimulation on your tongue as pictures of objects in your surroundings. This electrical stimulation can best be described as sparkling water or vibrations on the tongue. You can control the strength of the signal to maintain a comfortable sensation.
BrainPort is also called as a tasting device because the tongue can taste light and sense objects. It is this property which is used in the BrainPort vision device.
How does it work?
Here is a self explanatory diagram to save you from my monotonous writing.
And I wondered, Why tongue?
Well, if you have the same question, continue reading to find out why.
- Tongue is an ideal skin surface; its nerve fibers are closer to the surface, it lacks stratum corneum, it’s pretty sensitive and has more nerve fibers. Additionally, less voltage is required on the tongue because saliva acts as a natural conducting material.
- Other parts of the body are not sufficiently sensitive. The fingertips are sensitive but people want full use of their hands to grip a cane or to grab objects.
- Finally, the sensory homunculus, the area of brain that interprets tongue sensations, is much larger than other areas of the body.
To feel proud, Advantages
- BrainPort does not replace the sense of sight, it adds to other sensory experiences to give users information about the size, shape and location of objects. Users can operate it independently with a hand-held controller.
- A pair of sunglasses for free.
- It uses a rechargeable battery like in normal cell phones.
Not to hide, the Drawbacks
- This technology can’t be adapted to work on senses the brain doesn’t already have.
- The BrainPort requires training the brain incrementally using daily practice sessions.
- Its cost is around $10,000- so it cannot be afforded by common people.
- Occasionally it will produce weak metallic taste sensations, a minor side effect. Though any kind of tissue irritation with the gold-plated electrodes have never been observed.
- Studies showed that 69% of the 74 people who completed one year of training with the device were successful at the object recognition test. Some patients reported burning, stinging or metallic taste associated with the intra-oral device. There were no serious device-related adverse events.
Science has always provided mankind with answers and solutions, and science will continue to do so, while simultaneously supplying us with improvements upon previous technologies or new technologies altogether. Today, this BrainPort device can make a serious difference for patients whose sight cannot be replaced. Thus, we hope that the blind can also see this colorful world and Shaastra by using BrainPort.