Imagine you see nothing. Now, imagine 'seeing' that black nothing, that void, for years on end. Never knowing a color, or even a shape. It's a difficult life for anyone. But if you're blind, it's an incredibly challenging and difficult life.
However, say Australian scientists, total blindness may not be around forever. They have created the first bionic eye, and they think it works.
If successful, the bionic eye has the potential to help over 85% of those classified as legally blind. With trials beginning next year, Monash University's Professor Mark Armstrong says the bionic eye should give recipients a degree of extra mobility.
This isn't just a device though, it involves an implant in the back of the patient's brain, directly connected to their visual cortex - there it will be stimulating parts of their brain directly, bypassing whatever problem we had to see, whether the fault was in our eyes or in the neuronal connections.
The second part is a camera mounted in front, which is actually very similar to an iphone camera. The image it shoots is then distilled through a specilized processor and sends it to the implant wirelessly. The implant, made of a series of tiny ceramic tiles, has microscopic electrodes in each tile, which are embedded in the visual cortex.
The device will not allow for full sight, but it will allow the wearer to see the outlines of objects, and recognize people around them (We just don't know enough about the brain yet to achieve anything close to full vision through bionic implants, but we're getting better much quicker than anticipated).
One of the scientists involved in the project described it as a 'Low resolution dot image...enough to see the edge of a table or the silhouette of a loved one, or a step into the gutter...'
To someone who has seen only inky blackness, that is a lot.
Taking wearer comfort into consideration, the device was made as lightweight as possible, and have designed it to look more like a futuristic bluetooth device than a prosthetic.
The first implant is scheduled next year and is expected to answer the question once and for all - can we cure total blindness?
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