Blind Bin-Bin gets futuristic glasses to help him 'see' via pulses on tongue

Device uses a camera and electric pulses on the tongue to describe shapes and perspective

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 August, 2014, 3:11pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 7:31am

Guo Bin, the seven-year-old Shanxi boy whose eyes were gouged out in an attack a year ago, says he will work hard to master a new orientation device - although he finds the technology "a little bit painful".

The United States-made Brainport device for the blind translates information from a digital camera mounted on glasses into vibrations on the tongue. Users are trained to interpret the vibrations as shapes and perspective and can perceive images generated from those pulses by their brain.

An initial training course with the boy, affectionately known as Bin-Bin, had not gone well, admitted Dr Dennis Lam Shun-chiu. "Since Bin-Bin is so young, his knowledge of the world is very small. It may affect how he learns to use the device," said Lam, a Hongkonger who runs C-MER Dennis Lam Eye Hospital in Shenzhen.

Lam said Bin-Bin would return to school in Shanxi next month, but would receive more training with the device.

"We are confident that, in a few years, Bin-Bin will be able to master the device and allow it to help him with daily life."

In the meantime, Lam has arranged for another user of the device to share his experiences with Bin-Bin.

The man, in his thirties, has been blind since he was 12. He recently completed a training course in Italy and now uses the device regularly. "With this technology, I can 'see' some images and sense their size and distance from me. It has allowed me to be more independent," he said. "Bin-Bin is very smart and lively, he should master the technology in a year or two."

The horrific attack on Bin-Bin last August shocked China and the world.

A woman lured the boy away from his family, drugged him and dug his eyes out. Relatives found him late at night in a remote spot, his face covered in blood.

Police said Bin-Bin's aunt, a suspect in the case, committed suicide six days after the incident.

Bin-Bin had a set of prosthetic eyes implanted six months ago.

He appeared lively and in good spirits yesterday as he met reporters with his parents. He said it was "a little bit painful" to use the Brainport device, but when Lam asked whether he would work hard to master it, the boy answered yes.

Lam said Bin-Bin had overcome some of the psychological trauma of the attack.

When he reaches 16, it is hoped he can be given electronic eyes that will let him see light and shapes through signals sent to his optic nerves - although the technology is still in development.