It sounds futuristic, but bionic eye technology is very present. After years of research and development, people with significant visual impairment and even blindness are testing these new eyes. For some, this means restoring eyesight after years of blindness. Here’s more about this exciting technology and how it works.
How Does It Work
Right now, if you’re in the United States, there is one company that is leading the pack in the cure for blindness–Second Sight. Currently, they have two devices to help cure blindness in individuals with severe to profound retinitis pigmentosa.
The Argus II bionic eye is their original device, and Orion is their newer model. Even though these bionic eyes have some similarities, they are not the same thing. Read below to discover how each eye works.
Argus II Bionic Eye
The Argus II bionic eye is a device that helps cure blindness in patients with severe to profound retinitis pigmentosa. Retinitis pigmentosa is a generic term for a number of diseases that cause retinal degeneration. This means that this technology can only help people who have previously had sight and lost it because of retina-related issues. It has no impact on individuals who have been blind since birth or individuals who may be blind from issues unrelated to the retina.
It’s also worth noting that this bionic eye doesn’t completely restore vision as it was. Because the technology involves a video camera transmitting images to your receptor, the vision that is restored is more like outlines of objects and blinking lights. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a significant improvement over blindness and a miracle in today’s world.
The Argus II is an implant that works in conjunction with a video camera mounted on glasses. According to TechnologyReview.com,
“The images [from the video camera] are sent to a small, patient-worn processor, which uses special software to convert the images into a set of instructions that are sent to the implanted chip near the retina. Those instructions are then transmitted as a series of electrical pulses to an array of electrodes, also implanted around the eye.
People with retinitis pigmentosa are able to benefit from the device because the disease destroys only specialized photoreceptors while leaving the retina’s remaining cells intact. These retinal cells are able to transmit the visual information along the optic nerve to the brain, producing patterns of light in a patient’s field of view.”
The installation involves implanting a prosthetic eye with electrodes connected around your eye socket. According to the Second Sight website, “The implant is an epiretinal prosthesis surgically implanted in and on the eye that includes an antenna, an electronics case, and an electrode array.”
The Orion is Second Sight’s follow-up product to the Argus II. Although the company claims that the Orion is 90% like the Argus II, there’s a really important difference.
Unlike the Argus II, the Orion doesn’t use a camera mounted on glasses. This provides a whole new challenge of relaying images to the brain. In fact, because of this technology, the surgery to install the Orion is significantly more invasive than the surgery for the Argus II. However, because it bypasses the eyeball completely, the Orion could possibly cure blindness for a larger number of people.
According to TechnologyReview.com, installation of the Orion bypasses the eye completely. “Instead, an array of electrodes is placed on the surface of the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes visual information.” By connecting electrodes here, the Orion could potentially help people suffering from blindness caused by reasons including (but not limited to) retinal degeneration.
Unfortunately, a major disadvantage to this procedure is that it’s very invasive. Surgeons need to remove a small portion of skull in order to install the device. This allows the surgeon to implant electrodes on the brain. A prosthetic eye with a new optic nerve are also part of the procedure, but the installation of these parts is significantly less invasive.
For more information about bionic eyes, I suggest this article by TechnologyReview.com. This article by TheConversation.com provides a great description of what people with bionic eyes actually see and the technology involved.
Do you have a bionic eye? If you do, please tell us what you think about it.
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