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Deaf people can ‘hear’ via their tongues

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Researchers from Colorado State University, US have developed an electric mouthpiece gadget which will
allow deaf people to ‘hear’ simply by touching their tongue against a small
Bluetooth-enabled device. It promises to be cheaper, less invasive and more widely effective than the bionic ear.

This gadget uses a Bluetooth-enabled earpiece to pick up sounds, and then
converts those sounds into electrical impulses that are delivered in a variety of vibration patterns to an electrode-filled retainer that the
users push their tongue up against to “hear”.
This is similar to how a cochlear implant, or bionic ear, works, but it
doesn’t require surgery – with the cochlear implant, electrodes need to
be placed onto the patient’s cochlear, where they stimulate the auditory
nerve with electrical impulses.
John Williams, a mechanical engineer from Colorado State University said,”It’s much simpler than undergoing surgery and we think it will be a lot less expensive than cochlear implants” in a press release

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As it will require practice for the user to interpret the signals sent to the
tongue as sound, but according to Leslie Stone-Roy, assistant professor in the College of
Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, it can be done with a
couple of month’s practice. 

The research team is now working with neuroscientists to map the receptors on the
tongue and work out which pattern of electrodes on the device will work
best. This will give them important information on how consistent
people’s tongues are – if, generally, all tongues feel electronic
impulses in the same regions, then it means they can create one standard
device. Otherwise, they may need to tailor each device to the user,
which would make things trickier and more expensive.

Colorado State University

They have spent almost a year in testing
prototypes and have now filed an official patent and launched a start-up
company to bring it to market. Unfortunately, it will take a while before the technology can be used by the public. 

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