A device that sounds very strange has won FDA approval to come to market. The device is called the BrainPort V100 and it is a sensory substitution device that is designed to give the blind vision of a sort. Seeing in this case is done via an electrode that stimulates the tongue of the user. The FDA cleared Wicab, the maker of the device, to bring it to market last week.
The BrainPort consists of a pair of dark sunglasses with a camera fixed to the front and a device that sends electrical impulses to the electrode that is placed in the mouth. The visual information that the attached camera picks up is converted into electrical pulses sent as vibrations to the user’s tongue.
The device is seemingly difficult to use and requires the user to commit to significant training to get any benefit from the device. The researchers who developed the device say that in testing after a year of training 69% of the test subjects were able to identify an object using the BrainPort device.
Another big drawback to the BrainPort is that it is very expensive; units will cost about $10,000 each. BrainPort was able to come to market more quickly by taking advantage of the FDA premarket review pathway for devices that are low to moderate risk and are not equivalent to other devices already on the market.