The FDA has greenlit an unusual kind of wearable tech for medical use, one that lets people with vision problems navigate by taste. The BrainPort V100, built by Wisconsin-based Wicab, takes input from a video camera attached to a pair of glasses and converts it into different kinds of vibrations or tingling sensations given off by a small device seen above that the user holds on his or her tongue. It essentially translates sensory data into a form that is helpful to people who can’t see.
“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 in a statement. “It is important we continue advancing device technology to help blind Americans live better, more independent lives.”
In the FDA’s studies, 69 percent of the subjects who trained for a year with the BrainPort V100 could pass an object recognition test solely using the device’s sensations as a guide. The BrainPort V100 is not a complete replacement for vision however. It takes training and practice to understand how the different sensations indicate where objects and what objects are and whether they are moving. But it can certainly act as a supplement to more traditional aids like seeing-eye dogs and canes.
It’s a pretty impressive piece of technology as it is, but with FDA approval and the money that Wicab might see from sales of the $10,000 device, there’s a very good chance that improved devices will roll out before long. Competition in the space from other companies using Wicab’s precedent could see prices start to drop as well. And of course, there are millions of people who could benefit from being able to “see” the world around them with their tongues.