2013-02-19

Co.Exist

Bionic Eyeballs, Coming To A Face Near You

The next step in merging man and machine is here, with new electronic enhancements to the human eye to cure blindness.

A dream of futurists is finally coming true: Last week, the FDA approved the sale of the world’s first bionic eye.

According to its developer Second Sight, research and design for the Argus II retinal prosthesis has been in the works for 20 years. The technology is specifically tailored to treat patients suffering from late-stage retinitis pigmentosa, a form of blindness which prevents the eye from recognizing anything more than very bright light. It affects around 100,000 people in the U.S.

The way the device works is fascinating: Patients will wear special camera-equipped glasses that convert video images into small electrical pulses "that are transmitted wirelessly to an array of electrodes on the surface of the retina," according to Second Sight. "These pulses are intended to stimulate the retina’s remaining cells resulting in the corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain. The patient then learns to interpret these visual patterns thereby regaining some visual function."

Clearly, that doesn’t sound like 20/20 vision, but it’ll be the difference between near blindness and the ability to recognize the whereabouts of objects or even the shape of large letters. "[T]he promise to the patients is real and we expect it only to improve over time," Mark Humayun, an ophthalmologist and biomedical engineer at the University of Southern California, said in a statement.

The new prosthetic should be available for patients around the country later this year.

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