Bionic Eye Could Restore Sight for Many

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Courtesy Stanford University

A bionic eye. How cool is that? Even more snazzy when you think that blind people—or at least those with age-related macular degeneration and retinal pigmentosa—may be able to see at least shapes and colors with a new device currently being tested.

The researchers at Stanford University who have developed the process haven’t tried it on a human yet, but it appears to work on rats. Current eye implants require batteries to power them, but the newest version eliminates the need for batteries and the cumbersome wiring they require by using infrared glasses to power the solar panel-like contraptions.

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The retinal implant is surgically inserted on the back of the eye and a pair of glasses does all the hard work from there. The glasses contain a video camera that records what wearers should be seeing in front of them and then, using infrared light, transfers those images to the retinal chip, creating electrical signals that pass to the optic nerves.

The photovoltaic implant is so thin, it needs the boost of infrared light to power it because natural light is 1,000 times too weak, reports the BBC. But the small size of the implant also makes the surgery less intrusive than other similar methods, and does away with the need for a battery placed behind the ear, which current devices require.

“”The implant is thin and wireless and so is easier to implant,” said Keith Mathieson, one of the lead researchers on the project. “Since it receives information on the visual scene through an infra-red beam projected through the eye, the device can take advantage of natural eye movements that play a crucial role in visual processing.”

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