Cochlear implants have been the go-to tool for those with significant hearing loss. However, in order to implant a cochlear device, one must be willing to go under the knife and dish out a substantial amount of money.
That’s why researchers from Colorado State University started looking for a more practical solution, which caused them to turn to an unlikely organ: the tongue.
Colorado State University researchers John William, Leslie Stone-Roy, and JJ Moritz have developed a Bluetooth-enabled microphone earpiece in conjunction with a smart retainer that fits on a person’s tongue to strengthen the hearing of partially deaf people.
Of course, you can’t organically hear though your tongue. Instead, the device works to reprogram areas of the brain in order to help partially deaf people interpret various sensations on the tongue as certain words. The tongue is the perfect organ for this application due to its hypersensitive ability to discern between tactile sensations.
This from Popular Science:
The process starts with the earpiece’s microphone, which takes in sounds and words from the surrounding environment. A processor converts these sounds into distinct, complex waveforms that represent individual words. The waveforms are then sent via Bluetooth to the retainer, where they are specially designed to stimulate the tongue. Utilizing an array of electrodes, the retainer excites a distinct pattern of somatic nerves (those related to touch) on the tongue, depending on which waveform it receives. The electrodes excite the nerves just enough to cause them to fire their own action potentials.
The technique is similar to the strategy behind reading Braille – insofar as an individual learns the meanings or words based off pattern.
The device is predicted to cost somewhere around $2,000 and has the potential to expand beyond helping those with hearing loss by taking the same technology and strategy and applying it to language translation functions.
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