VIDEO INTERVIEW: Robert Beckman, CEO of medical firm Wicab, is looking to mobile and wireless technologies to improve the company’s first-generation ‘BrainPort V100’ device, which is designed to help totally blind people ‘see’ by translating digital information from a video camera into electrical stimulation patterns on the surface of the tongue.
Users feel moving “bubble-like patterns” on their tongue, which they learn to interpret as the shape, size, location and motion of objects in their environment.
By harnessing mobile technologies, however, Beckman expects significant improvements to the device.
“Right now our device [the V100] is not connected to the internet,” explained Beckman in a recent interview with Mobile World Live. “[By using wireless connections in future] we can eliminate the handheld controller [which enables the blind person to control the intensity of stimulation on the tongue] and all the controls will be on the frame of the glasses, and we will wirelessly connect the device to mobile technology which will greatly expand the capabilities of the device.”
Beckman used the example of a blind person being able to ‘see’ traffic lights change by combining the BrainPort device with mobile.
“I like to compare our technology with the pilotless car,” he added. “All the capabilities that are built into pilotless cars, such as avoiding obstacles, interpreting road signs – and how that information is used to control the car – are the same technologies that can benefit our blind users.”
Using tablets and smartphones also means more processing power. With “simple information”, added Beckman, users of the device can “figure out” the view in front of them. “With wireless technology, [the device] can interpret much more complex information and convey it audibly to the blind person,” said the CEO.
Beckman made reference to Paul Bach-y-Rita, company founder and inventor of the technology: “As Paul famously said, we see with our brains and not with our eyes. If the eyes [sensors] are damaged, then you can provide an alternate sensor [digital camera] and convey that information through an alternate channel [tongue] and the brain will automatically process that information in the visual cortex.”
The V100 is available in Europe and Canada, but had still to get the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when Mobile World Live spoke to Beckman in March. He said he expected FDA approval imminently.