FDA Approves Device That Lets Blind ‘See’ With Tongue

The BrainPort V100, a gadget that claims to help blind people "see" with their tongues, was approved Thursday by the Food and Drug Administration.

Developed by Wisconsin-based Wicab, the device translates visual information from a video camera into gentle electrical stimuli for the tongue. Eventually, users are able to interpret the signals to "see" where objects are located, how big they are, and how quickly and in what direction they are moving.

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"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, said in a statement. "It is important we continue advancing device technology to help blind Americans live better, more independent lives."

According to the FDA, tests showed that 69 percent of 74 subjects were able to "see" objects thanks to the device. And while some patients experienced "burning, stinging or metallic taste" when putting part of the BrainPort V100 in their mouth, the FDA determined there were "no serious device-related adverse events."

Wicab got permission to sell the BrainPort V100 in Europe in 2013 after 15 years of research. Now, it can be marketed in the United States, where, according to the National Institutes of Health, 1.2 million people are blind.