Being deaf is one of the most severe disabilities a person can experience. Many scientific breakthroughs have helped turn the tide in the fight against deafness. Most current devices, like cochlear implants, have their own drawbacks. They need to be surgically implanted and can cost up to $100,000. Who has that kind of money lying around?
An alternative, developed by scientists at Colorado State University, approaches the issue of deafness in an interesting way. They’ve invented a device that allows people to “hear” with their tongues. The system doesn’t restore hearing but converts sounds into distinct patterns of vibration that can be felt by the tongue. Wild! The technology is less expensive than cochlear implants and requires no surgery. Just a tongue.
Cochlear implants work by bypassing damaged parts of the ear, thus directly stimulating the auditory nerve. Sounds are picked up by a microphone and then analyzed by a speech processor. The CSU device works in a similar way, but it picks up sounds in a different way. A bluetooth-enabled earpiece transmits the sounds it picks up to a processor that converts them into patterns of impulses.
“Some people suggest it feels like the sensation of having champagne bubbles or Pop Rocks on their tongue,” engineer and project leader John Williams told PopSci.