Scientists in Australia, have recently assembled a prototype of a new bionic implant which they hope will be able to give sight to the blind.
In recent years, there has been a lot of research into the technology of bionic vision. Some, like filmmaker Rob Spence, have searched into the process of completely replacing the eye, in his case with a digital camera which links to a recorder, though not to his brain. Others have been to try and restore the damaged parts of the eye itself, receiving an experimental implant in 2010 which consisted of a 3mm2 chip which replaced the damaged receptors in the back of his eye and transmitted the signals direct to the optic nerve. In Monash University, technology has been invented which bypasses the eye completely.
The new device consists of a camera and digital processor unit, worn as spectacles, which takes in visual information and reiterates it into a signal the brain can understand. This signal is then transmitted to a series of tiny ceramic plates, each covered with miniscule electrodes, and which conduct the digital signal directly to the occipital pole, the visual centre of the cerebrum. This is the part of the brain which normally receives signals from the eyes, meaning that even if the patient receiving the implant were born blind, such as sufferers of eye agenesis, this area of the brain could still be stimulated, allowing a semblance of vision even without eyes. Professor Mark Armstrong says that the image the brain receives will be a low resolution dot image, sharp enough to see outlines of objects such as tables or to avoid dips in the pavement.
The first full implant of the device is scheduled for next year, and is planned to be quickly followed up with further trials and feedback for improved models. If successful, it is anticipated that the new prosthesis could help up to 85% of blind and visually impaired people regain a semblance of sight.