Soon deaf people could learn to “hear” with their tongue

For many severely hearing impaired or deaf people, cochlear implants have made a huge impact, but they require surgery and can cost up to $100,000. Scientists at Colorado State University have a new, unusual and far less expensive solution that could allow people to essentially hear using their tongue. IFLScience explained the device: A Bluetooth-enabled […]

For many severely hearing impaired or deaf people, cochlear implants have made a huge impact, but they require surgery and can cost up to $100,000. Scientists at Colorado State University have a new, unusual and far less expensive solution that could allow people to essentially hear using their tongue.

IFLScience explained the device:

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A Bluetooth-enabled earpiece transmits sounds to a processor which then converts them into patterns of impulses that represent a word. Rather than stimulating the auditory nerve, these signals are then sent to a smart retainer held in the mouth. When the user presses their tongue against the mouthpiece, tiny electrodes within the device send out patterns of impulses that stimulate nerves on the tongue, which then fire and relay the signals to the brain.

“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 Popular Science.

It will take people weeks or months to learn how to interpret the sensations, but the tongue is actually a prime spot to attempt this type of “hearing” because of how many nerves there are.

“We’re able to discriminate between fine points that are just a short distance on the tongue,” Leslie Stone-Roy told Popular Science. “It’s similar in terms of your fingertips; that’s why we use fingers to read Braille. The tongue is similar in that it has high acuity.”