17 March 2010
NEW EYES: Craig Lundberg, a soldier who lost his sight in Iraq, uses the new gadgetIn what could soon revolutionise the treatment for the blind, scientists have designed a device which has enabled a visually handicapped British soldier to “see” with his tongue.
Lance Corporal Craig Lundberg, 24, can read words, make out shapes and walk without assistance thanks to a device developed in the United States which could revolutionise life for other blind people.
Lundberg, from Liverpool, lost his sight after being struck by a rocket-propelled grenade while serving in Basra in 2007.
The device converts images into electrical pulses which are sent to the tongue, where they cause a tingling sensation. The different strength of the tingles can be interpreted so the user can mentally visualise their surroundings and navigate around objects.
The device consists of a tiny video camera attached to a pair of sunglasses which are linked to a plastic “lollipop” which the user places on their tongue to read the pulses.
The image is created by presenting white pixels from the camera as strong stimulation, black pixels as no stimulation, and grey levels as medium levels of stimulation, although interpreting the images takes intensive training.
“It feels like licking a nine volt battery or like popping candy,” Lundberg said. “The camera sends signals down onto the lollipop and onto your tongue. You can then determine what they mean and transfer it to shapes”.
“You get lines and shapes of things. It sees in black and white so you get a two-dimensional image on your tongue – it's a bit like a pins and needles sensation”, he added.
Lundberg and British military surgeons have visited the US for training in how to use the device, which is being developed by a team led by Gale Pollock, a former major general in the US army. AGENCIES