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New implant allows the blind to “see” shapes and letters

A team of scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston has developed a brain implant that allows both blind and sighted participants to “see” the shape of letters. As detailed in a new paper published in the journal Cell, the device works by skipping the eye and relaying visual information from a camera straight to electrodes implanted in the brain.

It’s a step toward a “visual prosthetic” that would allow the blind to fully regain vision — though such a device is likely to still be many years out. But what the researchers created is nonetheless remarkable: participants were able to “see” the outlines of shapes, thanks to complex sequences of electrical pulses sent to their brains.

“Our inspiration for this was the idea of tracing a letter in the palm of someone’s hand,” said first author Michael Beauchamp.

Although the development of the device is still in its early stages, such a device could have a major impact in the future on the lives of the blind and visually impaired.

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