[Art_beyond_sight_educators] 'Lollipop' Helps Reveal Shapes To the Blind

Lisa Yayla fnugg at online.no
Wed Jul 22 12:25:34 UTC 2009

Excerpt of article about the BrainPort device. Good article.
article at


'Lollipop' Helps Reveal Shapes To the Blind

After Marine Cpl. Mike Jernigan was blinded by a roadside bomb in Iraq, 
he said, not much was done for him.

"I returned back from Iraq and [Veterans Affairs] gave me a stick. A 
stick and a tap on the butt and they said, 'Go ahead.' "


Also called the intra-oral device, or IOD, the lollipop is an 
inch-square grid with 625 small round metal pieces. It is connected by a 
wire to a small camera mounted on a pair of sunglasses and to a 
hand-held controller about the size of a BlackBerry. The camera sends an 
image to the lollipop, which transmits a low-voltage pulse to Jernigan's 
tongue. With training, Jernigan has learned to translate that pulse into 
pictures. He can now identify the shapes of what is in front of him, 
even though both of his eyes have been removed.

"It's kind of like Braille that you use with your fingers," said Amy 
Nau, an optometrist who is researching the effectiveness of the device 
at the University of Pittsburgh. "Instead of symbols, it's a picture, 
and instead of your fingertips, it's your tongue."


"Touch takes over for vision in this case," said Maurice Ptito, a 
professor of visual science at the University of Montreal's School of 
Optometry, who has scanned the brains of blind people using the machine. 
"We notice that they activate the visual cortex, which is the part of 
the brain that a seeing person would use."


Paul Bach-y-Rita, the late founder of Wicab, discovered in the late 
1990s that the tongue was the ideal place to provide information through 
tactile stimulation, Beckman said. "There is a high level of nerve 
endings in the tongue, similar to a finger," he said. "And the tongue is 
constantly moist, so there is constant electric conductivity."

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