It may seem that it is impossible to restore vision in people without a working retina or damaged optic nerves. Well, the future is not what you always expect, because Professor Arthur Lowery of Monash University in Clayton, Victoria is developing the bionic eye, which can bypass most of the visual system entirely to restore sense of sight in blind people.

Bionic Eye

“You don’t need an eyeball at all” says Lowery, instead, a camera mounted on a pair of glasses will capture images from the user’s environment and feed them directly to the brain, reports New Scientist. His plan is to embed up to 11 small tiles and a total of 473 electrodes into the visual cortex of the brain.

In one of the tests, when the visual cortex is stimulated with electrical signals using an array of micro-sized electrodes, people report seeing flashes of light in a 2 dimensional array. Produced by electrical signals, these flashes of light are known as phosphenes.

Lower believes that each electrode could create a dot of light that is similar to seeing one pixel. So a total of 473 electrodes will provide around 500 pixels, which is enough to create a simple image. Normal eye can produce up to 2 million pixel image, but this amount of pixel produced by 473 electrodes is only meant to restore the basic element of sight.

Images captured by the camera will be sent to a pocket-sized processor, which then will pull out the relevant parts of an image and send it to the tiles, according to NewScientists. “The processor is like a cartoonist,” says Lowery. “It has to represent a complex situation with minimal information.”

The bionic vision system could help restore sight to up to 85% of people with severe incurable vision impairment or blindness, per Monash Vision Group. However, the device may not to work for those who are blind since birth, but only for ones who recently lost their sight due to injury. Lowery says if the device works on the volunteers, they will wake up with a crude sense of vision, “like a John Logie Baird television from the 1920s.”

Source: New Scientist, Monash University