Bionics eyes are everywhere!Friday, 25 April, 2008
Everywhere I look, I see some mentions of bionic eyes. Well, ok not everywhere, but there are stories this week about visual bionics coming from the US, the UK and from here in Australia.
A US company, Second Sight, working through the University of Southern California, has a nice bionic eye called the ‘Argus II’. Two blind patients in the UK have received the implants, which sends information from a camera worn on the head to a retinal implant featuring 60 electrodes on a 1mm2 chip. Now 60 electrodes isn’t much, considering that the retina contains about 160 million photoreceptor cells. Each of those electrodes is likely to be stimulating large portions of those. So it’s only rudimentary sight at the moment – only able to distinguish between large objects. But it’s only a matter of time.
The Prime Minister of Australia, at his 2020 Summit this week, thought that research into further bionics was a good plan for Australia, seeing as the University of Melbourne were the leaders in developing bionic ears (cochlear implants). The cochlear implant has a similar problem as the bionic eye – it uses a mere 22 electrodes to stimulate a few thousand receptors. One other Australian design, a bionic eye developed at the Sydney Eye Hospital, has a cost-effective design featuring only 30 electrodes, but differs from the Argus II in that it is fitted on the extra-ocular surface of the eyeball, rather than on the internal surface of the eye.
The Australian researchers at The Bionic Ear Institute in Melbourne have learned from this, and their bionic eye design features a total of 1000 electrodes. It also stimulates the optic nerve, rather than the retina itself. I’d imagine this would have the advantage of allowing more of the visual field to be stimulated at once, rather than just the part of the retina where the chip is.
Only a matter of time now before we have bionic eyes like Steve Austin (Six Million Dollar Man) or Jaime Sommers (Bionic Woman – the 2007 one). Or Batou from Ghost in the Shell. And if you really want to stretch for it – John Silver from Disney’s Treasure Planet.