The profoundly blind form mental images of their surroundings from a variety of stimuli – touch, echo location, the their tip of cane or guide dog – and Wicab Inc. has developed a device that relays visual information via a neuro-stimulating array on the tongue to round out those images.
Wicab president and CEO Robert Beckman reported on the device, called the BrainPort V100 Vision Aid, at the “What’s the Future” session at OIS@ASCRS 2016.
The tongue array contains 400 electrodes that receive signals from a streaming video camera mounted on a pair of glasses. “Using this additional information, the profoundly blind person learns to enhance the mental image that they have of the scene around them,” he said.
The BrainPort V100 received FDA de novo clearance as a novel device last year and the CE mark as well. Currently, Wicab is working with children in Milwaukee and Missouri to determine the benefits it can provide in that population, Beckman said. The company is also developing multiple applications so the profoundly blind can determine exit and restroom signs in crowded spaces.
Wicab is pursuing reimbursement in the US, France, and China, he said. The device costs about 10% of retinal implant devices with similar benefits. “Since we don’t involve surgery we are also much safer for the blind person,” Beckman stated.
“I think about this technology in the sense of the driverless car,” he said. “All the things the driverless care has to do – stay in the lane, avoid obstacles, read and interpret signs – our mission is to bring that same kind of technology to people who are profoundly blind.” The next iteration would use a headset and eliminate the handheld controller, Beckman said.
In an audience poll, 93% of attendees said government and commercial insurance should reimburse for the device, and 74% said the future for the device is bright.
Mr. Beckman joined Wicab, Inc. in January 2004 as President, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors. He was recruited by the company founder Paul Bach-y-Rita after Dr. Bach-Rita was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.