Melbourne: In a groundbreaking innovation, scientists have created an electronic device that may allow blind people to "see" using their tongues.
The extraordinary technology works by taking pictures filmed by a tiny camera, and turns the information into electrical pulses, which can be felt on the tongue.
Tests have shown that the nerves send messages to the brain, which turn these tingles back into pictures.
The tool, called the BrainPort vision device, resembles a pair of sunglasses attached by cable to a plastic lollipop.
Its users have revealed that they can make out shapes, and even read signs with fewer than 20 hours training only.
The scientists behind this innovation say that learning to picture images felt on the tongue is similar to learning to ride a bike.
The device, which collects visual data through a small digital video camera about 2.5cm in diameter, which sits in the middle of a pair of sunglasses worn by the user, could be available for sale later this year.
The information is then transmitted to a hand-held control unit, which is about the size of a mobile phone.
The unit converts the digital signal into electrical pulses and sends this to the tongue via the lollipop that sits on the tongue.
The lollipop contains a grid of 600 electrodes, which pulsate according to how much light is in that area of the picture.
The control unit allows users to zoom in and out and control light settings and electric shock intensity.
"At first, I was amazed at what the device could do. One guy started to cry when he saw his first letter," News.com.au quoted William Seiple, research director at Lighthouse International, which has been testing it, as saying.
Robert Beckman, president of US-based Wicab which is developing the BrainPort, said: "It enables blind people to gain perception of their surroundings, displayed on their tongue. They cannot necessarily read a book but they can read a sign."
Beckman is hoping that the device would be used to improve people``s mobility and safety.