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FDA Approves BrainPort V100, A Gadget That Helps Blind People See With Their Tongues

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Technological advancements often prove to be a double-edged sword. A new gadget dubbed BrainPort V100 however looks to only do good, holding the promise of helping visually impaired people see.

On Thursday, June 18, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the green signal to BrainPort V100, which is intended to aid blind people in seeing — with their tongues. The device is designed to provide oriention by dispensing visual images through the mouth.

The brainchild of Wicab Inc., a Wisconsin-based company, the BrainPort V100 is powered by a battery. The device has a tiny video camera that is mounted on a pair of glasses and a minuscule lollipop-type mouthpiece that has nearly 400 electrodes.

So how does the BrainPort V100 work, you wonder? Users hold the mouthpiece of the lollipop on their tongue. Upon doing so, the camera collects images, which are altered into electrical signals. These signals also cause a tingling sensation and create bubble-like patterns.

Basically, what the device does is convert visual data into electrical stimuli. The users can interpret these signals or sensations to "see" the size and shape of an object, as well as perceiving its direction of movement or whether it is stationary.

"Medical device innovations like this have the potential to help millions of people," said William Maisel, chief scientist at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "It is important we continue advancing device technology to help blind Americans live better, more independent lives."

Wicab explained that the BrainPort V100 will complement other forms of assistance meant for blind people, such as guide dogs and sticks, rather than replacing them. The gadget can apparently run for hours on a single charge.

The FDA says that studies conducted to determine the effectiveness of the device showed over a year that almost 70 percent of the 74 subjects were able to identify objects successfully in recognition tests. While some participants experienced a stinging or burning sensation – as well as a metallic taste (which was connected to the mouthpiece) – there were no serious side effects.

The technology for the BrainPort V100 has been in the works for several years now and was approved Europe in 2013 The product was also marketed in the UK, Germany, Sweden and Italy for $10,000.

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