Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The BrainPort and Sensory Substitution

From today's New York Times:
New Tools to Help Patients Reclaim Damaged Senses
By SANDRA BLAKESLEE
The New York Times
23 November 2004
Full article (free registration required)

[snippet]

But the technology for swapping sensory information is largely the effort of Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita, a neuroscientist in the University of Wisconsin Medical School's orthopedics and rehabilitation department. More than 30 years ago, Dr. Bach-y-Rita developed the first sensory substitution device, routing visual images, via a head-mounted camera, to electrodes taped to the skin on people's backs. The subjects, he found, could "see" large objects and flickering candles with their backs. The tongue, sensitive and easy to reach, turned out to be an even better place to deliver substitute senses, Dr. Bach-y-Rita said.

Until recently sensory substitution was confined to the laboratory. But electronic miniaturization and more powerful computer algorithms are making the technology less cumbersome. Next month, the first fully portable device will be tested in Dr. Bach-y-Rita's lab.

The BrainPort is nearing commercialization. Two years ago, the University of Wisconsin patented the concept and exclusively licensed it to Wicab Inc., a company formed by Dr. Bach-y-Rita to develop and market BrainPort devices. Robert Beckman, the company president, said units should be available a year from now.

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