In their quest to create the super warrior of the future, some
military researchers aren’t focusing on organs like muscles or hearts.
They’re looking at tongues.

By routing signals from helmet-mounted cameras, sonar and other
equipment through the tongue to the brain, they hope to give elite
soldiers superhuman senses similar to owls, snakes and fish.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Researchers at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
envision their work giving Army Rangers 360-degree unobstructed vision
at night and allowing Navy SEALs to sense sonar in their heads while
maintaining normal vision underwater turning sci-fi into reality.

The device, known as "Brain Port," was pioneered more than 30 years
ago by Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita, a University of Wisconsin neuroscientist.
Bach-y-Rita began routing images from a camera through electrodes taped
to people’s backs and later discovered the tongue was a superior

A narrow strip of red plastic connects the Brain Port to the tongue
where 144 microelectrodes transmit information through nerve fibers to
the brain. Instead of holding and looking at compasses and
bluky-hand-held sonar devices, the divers can processes the information
through their tongues, said Dr. Anil Raj, the project’s lead scientist.

In testing, blind people found doorways, noticed people walking in
front of them and caught balls. A version of the device, expected to be
commercially marketed soon, has restored balance to those whose
vestibular systems in the inner ear were destroyed by antibiotics.

Michael Zinszer, a veteran Navy diver and director of Florida State
University’s Underwater Crime Scene Investigation School, took part in
testing using the tongue to transmit an electronic compass and an
electronic depth sensor while in a swimming pool.

He likened the feeling on his tongue to Pop Rocks candies.

"You are feeling the outline of this image," he said. "I was in the
pool, they were directing me to a very small object and I was able to
locate everything very easily."

Underwater crime scene investigators might use the device to identify
search patterns, signal each other and "see through our tongues, as odd
as that sounds," Zinszer said.

Raj said the objective for the military is to keep Navy divers’
hands and eyes free. "It will free up their eyes to do what those guys
really want to, which is to look for those mines and see shapes that
are coming out of the murk."

Sonar is the next step. A lot depends on technological developments
to make sonar smaller hand-held sonar is now about the size of a lunch

"If they could get it small enough, it could be mounted on a helmet,
then they could pan around on their heads and they could feel the sonar
on their tongues with good registration to what they are seeing
visually," Raj said.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.The research at the Florida institute, the first to research
military uses of sensory augmentation, is funded by the Defense
Department. The exact amount of the expenditure is unavailable.

Raj and his research assistants spend hours at the University of
West Florida’s athletic complex testing the equipment at an indoor
pool. Raj does the diving himself.

They plan to officially demonstrate the system to Navy and Marine
Corps divers in May. If the military screeners like what they see, it
could be put on a "rapid response" to quickly get in the hands of
military users within the next three to six months.

By Melissa Nelson