An incredible new technology is giving blind people the ability to recognize shapes and objects that are “drawn” on their brains. A research paper describing the technology has just been published in the journal Cell, and as Science News reports, this could be a step toward providing blind people with a visual way to interact with the world around them.
The latest development builds on existing research showing how electrical impulses in the brain’s visual cortex make people visually “see” flickering light. This is promising because it means that blind people can still “see”, but simple flashes are not particularly useful in everyday life. In the new study, scientists did not just use electrical impulses to affect the visual cortex, but used electrodes implanted into the brains of six volunteers to “draw” shapes. Switch by acting the electrode in a specific mode.
The researchers found that this type of tissue stimulation can provide a clear image of what is “drawn” out, such as the letters of the alphabet. Volunteers were able to “draw” the shapes and relay them to the researchers. Scientists liken the technique to a tactile stimulus in which a person can draw a letter in another person’s hand, and even if they don’t see it, the person who receives the stimulus can intuitively “see what’s being drawn” and identify it.
The experimental technique was welcomed by volunteers, who were able to identify 86 shapes per minute. It’s an incredible feat, and it’s an impressive feat, in any case, and while the study was conducted using basic letter shapes, the researchers say more complex images, such as the contours of common objects, can also be drawn and interpreted by blind people.
“Participants were able to reliably draw, name, and distinguish these shapes,” the researchers explained. “Although we have only tested the shape of letters, the contours of other common objects, such as faces, bodies, houses, cars, tables, or chairs, can be tracked on the same principle. Combined with modern machine vision algorithms, objects in visual scenes can be quickly identified, and dynamic stimulation can be used to provide blind participants with a quick outline of prominent objects in the environment, or to provide clues to navigation. “