Science & Tech

The device that helps you hear through your tongue

Dr John Williams from Colorado State University testing a prototype device
Dr John Williams from Colorado State University testing a prototype device

A research team in the US is working on a device that could help people with hearing difficulties "hear" through their tongue.

The device works by picking up soundwaves and then sending them as electronic pulses to an electrode-packed retainer in the wearer's mouth which they press their tongue against to feel.

Nerve-endings in the tongue then send this sensory information to the brain which, with training, can interpret the feelings as sound.

According to the team at Colorado State University, the device - still in an early stage of testing - could eventually be a less invasive, less expensive alternative to cochlear implants.

They hope the ultimate device will be similar to a dental retainer that will be concealed in the mouth, according to the research team.

According to the project lead, John Williams, users will need to wear the device for three to four weeks in order to "teach" the tongue to interpret the sounds. It almost works in the same way as Braille - whereby blind people can use their fingers to "see" words for them.

In an interview with Boing Boing, the team reveal that their initial testing has been promising enough for them to file a patent for the technology and set up a company - Sapien LLC - to help develop it further.

You can see more about the device in this video interview with the research team:

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