17 Jul 2012

We are now reaching that point in time where we are beginning to see more devices that help the blind see, particularly in the area of bionics.  Such implants restore vision to blind individuals but only if the blindness was due to a faulty retina, such as with macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or other degenerative eye disease.  Examples of these bionics are the Argus II and Bio-Retina.

Argus II

The $115,000 Argus II requires a 4 hour operation and installs an antenna behind your eye and a pair of camera-equipped glasses that send the signal to the antenna.  The Argus II was developed by Second Sight.  The antenna is wired into your retina with around 60 electrodes which creates the equivalent of a 60-pixel display.  Users state they can see shapes and track objects and even read large writing.  This implant is already available in Europe.

Bio-Retina

There is another more exciting implant, the Bio-Retina developed by Nano Retina.  This implant costs less at $60,000 and rather than an external camera it uses a sensor placed inside the eye on the retina.  The procedure only takes 30 minutes and can be done under local anesthetic.

The Bio-Retina uses a 25x23 resolution (576-pixel) sensor on top of your damaged retina along with 576 electrodes on the back of the implant which implant into the optic nerve.  Then an image processor converts the data from each pixel into electrical pulses that are encoded so your brain can see different levels of grayscale.

The implant uses a standard pair of corrective lenses modified to send an near-infared laser beam through your iris to the sensor at the back of your eye.  A photovoltaic cell sits on the sensor and provides a maximum of three milliwatts.  See the video below for how the system works.

The Bio-Retina will begin human trials in 2013, but US approval could be a long ways off, as with the Argus II. 

The Tech-Stew Take Home

We are getting closer to making such visions as Star Trek's Giordi LaForge a reality.  As each year passes, the technology improves and so will the techniques used to restore vision to the blind.  There are many research groups out there dedicated to working with bionic eyes.  Many of these will have even more electrodes and higher resolutions.  One area that is lacking is that on color images, but as technology moves forward so will this vision, literally.

Source:  PopSci


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