WARF: P98100US

Tongue-Placed Tactile Output Device


Paul Bach-y-Rita, Kurt Kaczmarek

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) is seeking commercial partners interested in developing an improved TVSS that uses the tongue as a stimulation site.
OVERVIEWTactile vision substitution systems (TVSS) deliver visual information to the brain through an array of electrodes in contact with the skin in areas of the body such as the abdomen or fingertip. Points of the visual image are mapped onto individual electrodes within the array as vibration or electrical stimulation. With training, subjects learn to interpret tactile images as visual information, i.e., they experience images in space, rather than on the skin.
THE INVENTIONUW-Madison researchers have developed a tongue-placed tactile output device, which is an improved TVSS that uses the tongue as a stimulation site. Electrotactile stimuli are delivered to the top of the tongue when it contacts a flexible electrode array placed in the mouth. A tongue display unit (TDU), connected to the array by a cable passing out of the mouth, excites individual electrodes on the array according to a spatially-encoded signal from an input source, such as a TV camera. In principle, any input that can be converted into a two-dimensional display by the TDU can reach the brain and become part of a new sensory system.
  • Offers a practical and cosmetically acceptable spatial imaging system for visually-impaired people
  • May provide tactile input for amputees or quadriplegics, "virtual-reality" video games, and activities requiring extremely fast reaction times (e.g., race car driving, flying), where avoiding retinal delay is important (i.e., faster signal transduction through tactile system is needed)
  • High numbers of nerve endings in the tongue permit construction of small arrays with large numbers of electrodes for greater image resolution.
  • Requires only three percent of the voltage needed in fingertip arrays due to the greater electrical sensitivity of the tongue, making less cumbersome, self-contained battery operation possible.
  • Current design interferes little with normal tongue function - the tongue may be moved in contact with the array only as needed.
For More Information About the Inventors
  • Bach-y-Rita P., Tyler M.E. and Kaczmarek K.A. 2003. Seeing with the Brain. Int. J. Hum.-Comput. Int. 15, 285–295.
Contact Information
For current licensing status, please contact Jeanine Burmania at or 608-960-9846.
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