Bionic Eye Makes Steady Progress

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bionic_eyeThe BBC just ran a story about a bionic eye, or retinal implant, that has partially restored vision to a blind man in London.  Readers may recall that Singularity Hub reported on this technology, called the Argus II, months ago.  The BBC story does not uncover any new advances with the technology that we haven’t already reported.  However, they have released a video segment that offers interesting interviews with key players and patients, as well as some excellent footage.

The link below will launch the video, but beware…this video crashed our browser more than once:

real_playBBC Bionic Eye Video

For those that want a refresher on the bionic eye (aka the argus II artificial retina), it is an array of electrodes that is surgically implanted onto the retina – the layer of specialised cells that normally respond to light found at the back of the eye.  This array of electrodes is able to send signals to the brain that the person’s biological retina is unable to send.  Of course, the electrode array is not very useful unless it is receiving visual data to send to the brain.  To solve this problem the patient is fitted with a pair of glasses that contain a tiny video camera that continuously records footage of what is in front of the patient.  This video signal is sent wirelessly to a wearable computer that first filters and processes the video signal and then feeds this formatted data to the electrode array.  A picture of the entire setup can be seen below:

retina_glasses

Although this current bionic eye is impressive, what we really want to see is the next generation implant, dubbed the Argus III.  The Argus III promises a an electrode array with 1000 electrodes, vs the 60 electrodes present inthe Argus II.

Even with only 60 electrodes of bandwidth, the Argus II provides impressive vision to people that are otherwise completely blind.  From the BBC story:

Ron, who has not revealed his surname, told the BBC: “For 30 years I’ve seen absolutely nothing at all, it’s all been black, but now light is coming through. Suddenly to be able to see light again is truly wonderful.  I can actually sort out white socks, grey socks and black socks.”

Not only will this technology improve significantly in the coming years, but it is not inconceivable that eventually these implants will actually surpass natural human vision capability.  In the meantime, there is still much work to be done.   One of the greatest challenges seems to be ensuring that the implant can remain in the eye for decades or more without causing scarring, immune system responses, and general degredation from daily biological wear and tear.

The future is literally looking brighter everyday for the millions of people across the world who suffer from blindness.

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