BrainPort Vision Aids : A Closer Look At How The FDA-Approved Visual Devices Help Blind People See

The BrainPort V100 is the original seeing gadget developed by Wicab, a Wisconsin-based medical device company that enables blind people to “see” through their tongue. Through a wearable video camera that captures the image of an object, visual information will be transmitted to the general electrical stimuli of a tongue array; and create patterns on the surface of the tongue.

Signals are sent from the tongue to the user’s brain, which in turn interprets the visual information. The interpretation then gives the user the ability to see the spot where an object is located, visualize the size and the direction to where that object is moving.

Described as an electronic oral-vision aid, the gadget’s development was based on an original sensory substitution technology invented by Wicab founder, Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Google granted funding for the clinical trials of the FDA-approved BrainPort Vision Aid.

BrainPort Vision Pro

A second generation version called the BrainPort Vision Pro comes with a headset outfitted with a video camera that works in different lighting conditions and with adjustments for field view. The BrainPort Vision Pro’s tongue array is connected to the headset camera by way of a flexible cable, making it less prone to being dropped or misplaced.

The tongue array has 394 electrodes that allow the tongue to receive stimulations that are interpreted in the form of pixels by the camera. White pixels projected by the camera are felt by the tongue as strong stimulations, while gray pixels denote mid-level stimulations. Black pixels on the other indicate no stimulation.

BrainPort Vision Pro also comes with a hand-held, battery-operated control system that allows users to turn the device on or off, adjust stimulations, zoom in or out, adjust contrast and make tests. The handheld unit can run up to 3 hours, whilst housing the rechargeable lithium batteries.

Training Requirement Prior to Use

Use of a BrainPort Vision Aid requires supervised one-on-one training prior to independent use. An individual user must first complete a minimum of 10 hours of a 3-day training period, which covers correct interpretation of sensory information, proper operation of controls and customization.