Researchers at Monash University, Australia, have built a bionic device that has the capability to restore the vision of the blind. As the team prepares for the first human clinical trials of the bionic eye, let’s understand the tech behind it and how they did it.
Crux of the Matter
How Did They Start?
They started with the Gennaris bionic vision system, which is a decade-old project, dedicated to bypassing damaged optic nerves to allow signals to be transmitted from the retina to the brain.
What Is The Retina?
It is a thin layer of tissue that lines the back of our eye and is located near the optic nerve. It receives light that our lens has focused, converts it into neural signals, and sends them to the the vision section of the brain, for real-time recognition of our surroundings and its components.
Prosthetic Eye v/s Bionic Eye
Prosthetic eyes, also called glass eye, replaces the entire physical structure and appearance of an eye which was removed due to pain, disfigurement, or a disease.
Bionic eye implants work with the existing eye structure and are designed to achieve functional vision goals, and not serve physical/cosmetic purposes.
What Is The Bionic Eye Made Of And How Does It Work?
It is made up of a custom-made headgear, that includes a camera and a wireless transmitter. A processor unit takes care of data analysis, while tiles are implanted inside the brain to deliver signals.
- The images from a video camera are converted to a high-contrast image representation, of which a part is selected for further processing.
- The processor converts this part into electrical parameters, which are sent to electrodes implanted in the eye.
- This allows the bionic eye recipient to recognize the presence of people and objects in both indoor and outdoor environments.
Is This Artificial Vision?
Yes. It is formed using the phenomenon of phosphenes – experiencing seeing light without light actually entering the eye, similar to swirling mosaics/colours you may see on closing your eyes.
So the vision provided by a bionic eye is not like natural sight, but a series of flashing spots and shapes the person uses to interpret their environment through training.
Has It Been Tested?
A trial in July this year, had the bionic transplants safely inserted in the brains of three sheep, with 2,700 hours of stimulation not causing any adverse health effects.
What Can We Look Forward To In The Future?
If successful on humans, the system can help those with untreatable neurological conditions, like limb paralysis, to regain movement along with giving vision to partially or completely blind people.
In fact, research is going on finding newer nanotechnology materials, that would allow electrodes to be small enough to produce high-quality resolution pictures too.
- Dr. Bill Dobelle was a biomedical researcher who developed experimental technologies that restored limited sight to blind patients. He was the former director of the Division of Artificial Organs at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.
- The Six Million Dollar Man is an American science fiction and action television series, running from 1973 to 1978, about Colonel Steve Austin, portrayed by Lee Majors. Austin has superhuman strength, speed, and vision due to bionic implants and is employed as a secret agent.
- The word bionic was coined by Jack E. Steele in 1958, being formed as a portmanteau from biology and electronics. It was popularized by the 1970s television series like The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.