Ever wondered why kissing feels better than holding hands? The tongue is a pretty incredible piece of kit, though notoriously difficult to study, due to its position inside the mouth. Obviously, it gives us access to the wonderful world of taste, but more than that, it has greater sensitivity to touch than the fingertip. Without it, we aren’t able to speak, sing, breathe efficiently or swallow delicious beverages.
So why don’t we use it even more? My new study investigates how to make the most of this strange organ – potentially as an interface to help people with visual impairments navigate and even exercise. I realise this may sound mindboggling, but please bear with me.
My research is part of a field known as “sensory substitution”, a branch of interdisciplinary science that combines psychology, neuroscience, computer science and engineering to develop “sensory substitution devices” (known as SSDs). SSDs convert sensory information from one sense to another. For example, if the device is designed for a person with a visual impairment, this typically means converting visual information from a video feed into sound or touch.