Prosthetic technology has evolved a lot in recent years, but the human eye has always been difficult to reproduce. Today, scientists have designed a prototype for the first 3D artificial bionic eye, which could allow users to see better than in real life.
To allow the blind to see at last ?
Bionic eyes appear as a way of restoring sight to people who have lost it, and perhaps even to those who never had it in the first place. Currently, the most advanced versions are from companies such as Bionic Vision Australia and Second Sight, both of which have already been implanted in patients. Both devices take the same basic form, starting with a pair of glasses with a camera in the center.
The resulting data is processed by a small unit worn outside the body and then sent to an implant on the user’s retina. From there, the signals are transmitted to the visual centres of the brain. And they work. Users have reported being able to see flashes of light for the first time in years. Unfortunately, this vision is not clear enough to allow them to move around properly, and other studies have shown that these types of bionic eyes can produce interlaced images and are too slow to capture rapid movement.
A major technological breakthrough.
This new device could herald a huge improvement. A team led by scientists from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has developed what they call the Electrochemical Eye (EC-Eye).
Rather than using a two-dimensional image sensor like a camera, the EC-Eye is modeled after a true concave-curved retina. This surface is dotted with a series of tiny light sensors designed to mimic the photoreceptors of the human retina. These sensors are then attached to a bundle of liquid metal wires, which act as the optic nerve.
Night vision coming soon.
The team tested the EC-Eye and showed that it can already capture relatively clear images. It was installed in front of a computer screen displaying large individual letters, and was able to display them clearly enough to be read. Although this is a considerable improvement over existing designs of the bionic eye, the vision of the EC-Eye is still far from that of a natural human eye.
But, according to the team, that could change. The technology has the potential to surpass reality, using a denser network of sensors and attaching each sensor to an individual nanowire. The team even says that the use of other materials in different parts of the EC-Eye could give users greater sensitivity to infrared – in other words, night vision. Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done, but the EC-Eye looks promising.