A team from Colorado State University are working on a device which will allow deaf people to ‘hear’ simply by touching their tongue against a small Bluetooth-enabled device.

John Williams, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering said that It’s much simpler than undergoing surgery and we think it will be a lot less expensive than cochlear implants.

Cochlear implants are very effective and have transformed many lives, but the surgery is invasive, expensive and not everyone is a suitable candidate.

Williams who has spent much of his career developing electric propulsion systems for spacecraft was exposed to lots of powerful vacuum devices used to simulate conditions outside our atmosphere, which eventually caused him to develop tinnitus.
It was while reading up on cochlear implants that he decided to create a new, less invasive version of his own.

Cochlear implants take sound from outside the body, convert it into an electrical signal and transmit it directly to the auditory nerve.

The new mouthpiece system works in a similar way, taking audio from an earpiece microphone and sending it to the mouthpiece via Bluetooth, but then transmitting the signal instead to the many sensitive nerves found in the tongue.

It will require practice for the user to interpret the signals sent to the tongue as sound, but Leslie Stone-Roy, assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, believes it can be done with a couple of month’s practice.

At the moment, the current prototype is a large device, but researchers believe that it will eventually be built into a tiny unit which can be worn invisibly in the mouth.

Via The Telegraph