"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

How the body's most sensitive organ helps blind people 'see'

Ever wondered why kissing feels higher than holding hands? The tongue is a reasonably incredible piece of kit, even though it's very difficult to check due to its position contained in the mouth. Obviously, it gives us access to the wonderful world of taste, but greater than that, it has a touch sensitivity greater than a fingertip. Without it, we're unable to talk, sing, breathe effectively or swallow delicious drinks.

So why don't we use it more? My new study Research explores tips on how to profit from this strange organ – possibly as an interface to assist visually impaired people navigate and exercise. I realize this will sound mind-boggling, but please bear with me.

My research is an element of a field called “sensory substitution,” a branch of interdisciplinary science that mixes psychology, neuroscience, computer science, and engineering to develop “sensory substitution devices” (SSDs). ) produces. SSDs convert sensory information from one sense to a different. For example, if the device is designed for an individual with a visible impairment, this normally means converting visual information from a video feed into sound or touch.

Draw pictures on the tongue

BrainportFirst developed in 1998, is one such technology. It converts the camera's video feed into dynamic patterns of electrical stimulation on the surface of the tongue. The “tongue display” (a small device shaped like a lollipop) consists of 400 tiny electrodes, with each electrode corresponding to 1 pixel from the camera's video feed.

It creates a low-resolution tactile display on the tongue matching the output of the camera. This technology may be used to assist individuals with paralysis maintain balance. And in 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration approved its use. Aid to the visually impaired.

Imagine putting your hand in front of the camera and feeling a small hand appear on the tip of your tongue at the identical time. It looks like someone is drawing pictures in candy in your tongue.

While the brainport has been around for years, it hasn't seen much real-world growth despite being ten times cheaper than a retinal implant. I exploit BrainPort to look at how human attention works at the extent of language, to see if differences in perception might account for it.

In psychology research, there may be a well-liked way of measuring attention, called The Posner Cueing ParadigmNamed after an American psychologist. Mike Posner who developed it within the Nineteen Eighties to measure visual attention.

When I say attention I don't mean “attention span”. Attention refers back to the set of processes that bring objects from the environment into our conscious awareness. Posner found that our attention may be captured by visual stimuli.

If we briefly see something coming out of the corner of our eye, the main focus is on that spot. We probably evolved this method to react quickly to dangerous snakes lurking across the corners and edges of our visual field.

This process also occurs between the senses. If you've ever sat in a pub garden in summer and listened with one ear to the eerie drone of an approaching wasp, your attention is quickly drawn to this side of your body.

The sound of a wasp draws your auditory attention to the overall location of a potentially approaching wasp in order that the brain can quickly allocate visual attention to pinpoint the wasp's exact location, and quickly swat or duck away from the wasp. can deal with.

That's what we call it. “Cross-modal” attention (Vision is one mode of perception, audio one other): Things that appear to 1 sense can affect other senses.

Pay attention to language

My colleagues and I developed a variation of the Posner cueing paradigm to see if the brain can allocate tactile attention to the extent of language just like the hand or other modes of attention. We know loads about visual attention, and tactile attention on the hands and other parts of the body, but don't know if this data translates into language.

This is essential because BrainPort is designed, built and marketed to assist people “see” with their language. But we want to know if “seeing” with the tongue is identical as seeing with the eyes.

How similar is seeing with the tongue to seeing with the eyes or hands?

The answer to those questions, like almost all the pieces else in life, is that it's complicated. Language responds to pointed information in almost the identical way because the hand or sight, but despite the incredible sensitivity of language, attentional processes are somewhat limited in comparison with the opposite senses. It's very easy to overstimulate the tongue – causing sensory overload that could make it hard to feel what's occurring.

We also found that the strategy of attention to language may be influenced by sound. For example, if a BrainPort user hears sound on the left side, they will easily recognize information on the left side of their tongue. If paired with an auditory interface, it will possibly help guide attention and reduce sensory overload with BrainPort.

In terms of real-world use of BrainPort, this translates into managing the complexity of visual information that's substituted and, if possible, one other sense to assist share among the sensory load. use Using BrainPort in isolation may be highly motivating to supply reliable information and might potentially be improved through the use of other assistive technologies, akin to VOICe.

We are using these findings to develop a tool that may assist visually impaired rock climbers. Navigate while climbing.. To prevent information overload, we're using machine learning to discover climbing holds and filter out less relevant information. We are also exploring the opportunity of using voice to predict where the subsequent hold is perhaps, after which use feedback on the tongue to accurately locate the hold.

With a couple of tweaks, this technology could eventually develop into a more reliable tool to assist blind or deaf or blind people navigate. It can even help individuals with paralysis, who're unable to make use of their hands, navigate or communicate more effectively.