Do you know anyone who is blind or visually impaired? There is a revolutionary technology in the making, which might significantly better the situation of people suffering from these issues. Researchers from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology built the ElectroChemical Eye or EC-Eye for short, an artificial 3D eyeball, which resembles the biological eye in shape and size, but with the potential to vastly outperform it.
The way this device works is by converting images through tiny sensors that mirror the light-detecting photoreceptor cells in the human eye. Those sensors reside within a membrane which is shaped into a half sphere for the purpose of mimicking a human retina. Information is then passed through nanowires, which act like the brain’s visual cortex, to a computer for processing.
Achieving a bionic eye, or a visual prosthesis has been a long time challenge for scientists, due to the difficulty in cramming the technology into a spherical shape. In its current condition the eye's ability to render images isn’t the greatest.
During tests, the computer was able to recognize the letters ‘E’, ‘I’, and ‘Y’ when they were projected onto the lens, however, images more complicated than a single letter will require a higher density of sensors. That may sound like a mark against it, but the scientists on the research team are anything but discouraged. In fact, they believe further development will allow EC-Eye to have even better resolution than the human eye.
Up to 10 times more nanowires than biological photoreceptors could potentially be used, which would help the human wearer of the bionic eye see smaller objects and gain night vision capabilities.
Clinical trials with humans and animals are currently being planned. “It can be used for a visual prosthesis to help the blind or those who are visually impaired. It can lead to a bionic eye. We hope to further improve our device in terms of biocompatibility, stability, and performance. I think if everything is on track, perhaps in five years the technology will become practical.” said Prof Zhiyong Fan, of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Five years may sound like a long time, but it could be useful for practical measures, like signing up to a waitlist for those who are most in need of this technology. It would undoubtedly be a significant and historical development for humanity, to overcome blindness - an impairment as old as time - with the help of science.