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Can You Hear with Your Tongue?

Published: 06/02/2015

Last Updated: 06/02/2015

TongueScientists from Colorado State University (CSU) are in the process of creating what could serve as a surprising alternative to cochlear implants: a device that allows you to hear through your tongue.

How does it work?

This new device, envisioned as a mouthpiece, detects sounds with a Bluetooth receiver and then converts them into patterns of impulses that the user can feel on their tongue. Similar to the way Braille uses different shapes to represent letters and numbers for people who cannot see well, this device creates different patterns of impulses that represent actual words. It can take weeks or perhaps a month or two for the brain and tongue to learn to work together, but once that happens, the user’s tongue will effectively have been taught to hear.

How is it different from an implant?

Typically recommended to those with profound hearing loss, cochlear implants detect sounds, analyze them, and then send electrical signals directly to the wearer’s auditory nerve.

Cochlear implants can be very effective and have changed a great number of people’s lives. However, they’re not suitable for everyone’s hearing needs. The CSU researchers have created the mouthpiece in the hope that it will serve as an alternative.

What’s next?

The researchers are currently mapping the tongue to find the most effective spots for the device to stimulate.

Right now, the device is somewhat large, but the researchers’ ultimate goal is to create a mouthpiece similar to a retainer. This way, it will be unobtrusive and invisible.


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