Brainport V100

A wonderful day to you, dear reader!


You come to this page seeing a fancy science-fiction-looking title, and obviously you wonder what on earth it could be. Well, it is one of the sensory substitutions we haven’t discussed yet. It replaces vision by sensing with your tongue. It is not quite the same as replacing it by taste, but I’ll explain that later. We’ve had multiple applications that substitute vision by touch (albeit most often at the braille side), we’ve had some that substitute it by hearing (we’re even making our own thesis about it), but this might seem a little less likely to give you the same results.

And partially, that is correct. The Brainport V100 device is meant as a vision “assistant”: it helps a visually impaired person gain some information about shapes of items in front of them, and helps with their orientation, but it does not have the accuracy that some of the technologies previously discussed on this blog have.

The Brainport V100

How does it work? Not unlike our own thesis, the device makes use of a camera, added on to a pair of goggles. The data the camera reads in are processed, and the shapes of the objects recorded is sent to the output. And the output is what really makes this special. It is a 3×3 cm array of 400 electrodes that are individually pulsed according to the recorded image. The array is connected to the goggles via a wire, and is meant to be places on the tongue of the user. They can – though not without any practice – recognize the signals and gain information about their surroundings by using them. It’s no major inconvenience either: the signal is perceived as a fizzly feeling on your tongue, and, as user feedback suggests, can be quite pleasant.

The electrode array

As is per definition the case with sensory substitution, gaining vision is traded off by (temporary) loss of another sense, in a certain location. Indeed, it will be difficult at best to taste anything while using the device, and, perhaps more important, also speech and vision are mutually exclusive in this solution. This is of course a trade-off the users themselves have to make, and as discussed before, just having the option to use either one is a big step forwards already. The device itself makes it easy to change between using and not using as well, which is also an advantage in that regard.

And speaking of options, the choice of which assisting device to use is also a decision that a user can make, depending on his own personal experience. And there are several, quite differing options available. Just scroll through our previous posts :).




More info? Go to the site of the producer, read some articles in the media about it, or have even the manual of the device.

Google Car

Welcome back to our little corner of the Internet!

We’ve talked a lot about tools and devices specifically designed for visually impaired people, but we cannot lose sight of other pieces of research and technology that are developped for a more general audience, but which might provide some – if not a lot – of use for the visually impaired.

One such research topic might be Google’s driverless car. The project is designed with safer traffic in mind for all audiences, but it would also have a specifically great advantage for blind people: they would be able to have a personal vehicle that can be controlled without having another person to drive it for you. This would work as a major “enabling” tool for the mobility of blind and otherwise visually impaired people. The reactions of a legally blind person testing the vehicle can be seen in this movie:

Even though many argue that in order to be more ecologically responsible it is better to leave personal vehicles behind in favor of public transportation, which is already very much accessible for blind people, this evolution does not seem to be happening at a rapid enough pace for the driverless personal vehicle to be useless for blind people. Also, considering that this innovartion, when it happens, will spread to more and more people, the driverless car will actually counteract stigmatizing, which might happen when using other types of tools for the visually impaired, as one of our readers pointed out in the comments section of one of ours previous posts.

Don’t take it for an innovation that might happen very soon though: there are still many legal problems with allowing a driverless vehicle to be produced.This is mostly because jurisdiction usually focusses on the driver of a vehicle, which would obviously be a problem in this case.

But of course, as promising as this technology may look, and although Google is well on its way to prove the opposite, there might always be some imperfections that lead to faulty behavior. In this case, vision would once more become a useful tool for the user to correct the car. So far however, no accidents with driverless cars (in driverless mode) have been recorded. Do you think, based on this, that this is a legitimate concern? Or do you have an opinion on Google’s project or driverless cars in general? Let us know in the comments!


Further info:

Blind spot

In this movie, you see a new usage of the white cane. Except using it to guide you around, it is used as a social device.

As far as I understood, it is actually kind of a smartphone implemented in the white cane. The device uses ‘Foursquare’ to get info about it user’s friends whereabouts. When a friend is in the neighborhood, the device will give you 3 options: Call the friend, find the friend or ignore it. In this way, the blind person knows that his friend is in the neighborhood and he can initiate a chat with him. Whereas if using a traditional cane, the blind person will probably never know that his friend was in the neighborhood if his friend didn’t notice him. Except for using it as a social device, the cane also uses an ultrasonic sensor  to detect objects hanging in the air, which will not be detectable with the normal usage of the white cane.

What are you thoughts about using this white cane to help blind people? If you have a friend using this device, will you start using ‘Foursquare’ in order to let him know where you are? If you are a blind person, will you use this device?



The human cyborg

In this Ted talk, Neil Harbisson talks about being a cyborg.

Neil was born with total color-blindness. In 2004 he started to listen to color. With a sensor and a chip installed at the back of his head, he can hear colors through their frequencies.

This is an example of how technology can help visual challenged people. But is this technology only useful for them? I think that these kinds of technologies can be used for a wider audience and other applications too. It’s a tool for not only replacing a broken sense organ, but also to enhance a normal working sense organ. In my opinion, more and more people will use these kinds of technology to make their body ‘better’.

But what will happen if we all become cyborgs and stop using our sense organs in a normal way? Is it ethical to start replacing sense organs that are working perfectly fine? Will the world benefit from it?