A bionic eye to possibly eliminate blindness? Researchers say yes! The idea of cyborgs has been in human minds even when robots didn’t exist. Edgar Allan Poe wrote about Man that was used up, and later movies like Terminators brought more fully formed cyborgs – part human, part machine.
While bionic arms and legs have been around for a couple of decades, no internal organ has been mechanised yet. At Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, a team of researchers have built a bionic device to replace the human eye. They claim the bionic attachment can restore vision with a brain implant procedure.
The team has announced that they would be entering the human trial stage now. Named as the ‘Gennaris Bionic Vision System’, it has been in development for over ten years. The whole system consists of a customised headgear with wireless transmitter and camera, as reported on the DailyMail.
There is a vision processor unit inside and a software to compute the ‘vision’. With these external units, a set of 9x9mm tiles have to be implanted in the brain to relay and process the vision. So far, the device has been used on animal models. Sheep were the last test subject and they did not present any health side effects upon the use.
But, the scientists have tough competition as Elon Musk, the billionaire social icon, has also been experimenting on similar devices. His test subjects were pigs. Musk has an advantage that these scientists don’t, the virtually unlimited funds. Which is why the team has requested more funding in order to fasten the process and make the device more accessible.
The Monash University team has been working on this project longer than Musk. The GBVS was aimed at 'world's first' brain implant aimed at restoring the site. The researchers claim the system is capable of bypassing any damaged optic nerves, hence overcoming any blockades between brain signals from retina towards the vision centre of the brain.
“Our design creates a visual pattern from combinations of up to 172 spots of light (phosphenes) which provides information for the individual to navigate indoor and outdoor environments, and recognize the presence of people and objects around them,” said Professor Lowery, also from the University's Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering.
According to an estimate, there are nearly 39 million people in the world with blindness. If and when this device passes human trials, it would still remain expensive like bionic arms or legs, but it will definitely be one of the biggest inventions of this century.