Robert Beckman told delegates at this morning’s Mobile World Congress keynote on innovation about his firm Wicab’s product, which makes the extraordinary claim that it can enable blind people to see.

The device, which is called the Brainport, is close to gaining approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, which would give it a significant boost.

And the aim is to integrate wireless technology into the product.

“We see with brains not eyes. Vision occurs in the brain, so we use an alternative sensor to convey the same information if the eyes are not functioning,” explained Beckman, Wicab’s CEO (pictured).

The device uses a digital camera embedded in standard dark glasses to sense information and the tongue as an alternative channel to convey information to the brain. The tongue is used because it has a high level of receptors.

The product is made up of the glasses, a controller unit and an electrode array for the tongue.

In terms of quality of vision, the product enables a blind person to sense the edges of objects and recognise patterns, which is sufficient says Beckman: “They can observe objects, they can navigate sidewalks.”

The next step is to eliminate the controller, so making the product sleeker and also adding a wireless connection, which means users can receive a signal about objects coming into view.

And beneficiaries could be numerous. Totally blind people number 250,000 in US and 500,000 in Europe. The numbers are even higher outside western economies. China, for instance, has four million blind people.