Extraordinary hope for blind people and discovery can change the world
An international team of researchers has recently succeeded in developing the first prototype of a 3D artificial eye, reproducing the structure of a hemispheric biological eye and capable of surpassing human faculties.
AN INCREDIBLY COMPLEX SENSORY ORGAN
The human eye is an incredibly complex sensory organ. It is therefore not surprising that researchers have difficulty artificially recreating its properties. The most advanced versions of bionic eyes at present are those from companies such as Bionic Vision Australia or Second Sight, consisting of a pair of glasses with a central camera. The captured data is then processed by a small external unit before being sent to the user’s retinal implant. From there the signals are transmitted to the visual centers of the brain.
Although these devices work, with users who have lost their eyesight reporting seeing flashes of light for the first time in years, they are quite cumbersome and the vision offered is not clear enough to allow the wearer to correctly locate themselves in space. Some research has also shown that this type of technology can produce persistent images and is too slow to capture rapid movement.
This is where the ElectroChemical Eye, or EC-Eye, a 3D prototype of an artificial eye developed by a team from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in collaboration with researchers from Berkeley, comes into play.
THE FIRST 3D ARTIFICIAL EYE PROTOTYPE IS ALREADY SHOWING PROMISING RESULTS
Rather than using a two-dimensional image sensor, such as a camera, this promising device recently presented in Nature magazine relies on an artificial retina. This incorporates an array of light sensors that mimic the photoreceptors of human retinas, which are connected to a bundle of liquid metal wires that act as an optical nerve.
Although it is currently a tabletop prototype, the EC-Eye is already able to capture relatively clear images. When the device is placed in front of a computer screen displaying large characters, it is able to transmit a visual signal that is sharp enough so that the letters can be easily distinguished and read (see video below).
According to its designers, the improvements made in the medium term (about five years) could enable it to reach or even surpass human faculties, with sharper vision and the ability to detect infrared radiation in the dark. In other words: night vision.
IMPROVE ITS DEFINITION AND ENSURE THAT IT IS BIOCOMPATIBLE
Among the applications envisaged, the ElectroChemical Eye could obviously be directly transplanted to blind and visually impaired subjects in order to alleviate their handicap, but could also be used in the field of robotics, in order to offer unprecedented visual acuity to humanoid machines equipped with it. The authors of the study also plan to miniaturize the device, which may eventually do without power supply and external circuits, with an artificial retina also acting as a solar cell.
For the team, the next step will be to improve the definition of the prototype and to ensure that it is biocompatible, “by collaborating with medical research experts with relevant expertise in optometry and ocular prosthetics.
Source : New Atlas