“We hoped to do for vision what the cochlear implant has done for hearing.”
Professor Gregg Suaning
Australian scientists are ready to start trials of a fully implantable bionic eye. The engineers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have developed the Phoenix99 bionic eye, which is expected to be able to restore vision multiple times more effectively than current technologies. The scientists have been researching the technology since 1997, to help those suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that removes eyesight in around ten years, usually beginning around age 30.
The implantation surgery should only span two to three hours. Further, the implant’s only telltale mark is a tiny disc situated behind the ear, which sends power and data to the device. Electrical impulses are then transmitted to the back of the eye. Patients will also wear glasses equipped with a camera, which helps to define nerve cells’ stimulation in the retina. This, in turn, sends signals to the brain’s visual cortex.
Users must “learn” to use the device—the array of electrodes allows patients to see “phosphenes” (spots of light) and the cameras help wearers get a sense of distance. “Patients ‘learn’ to use the technology, in the same way a person implanted with a cochlear ear implant ‘learns’ to hear electrical impulses,” said Gregg Sauning, one of the inventors, in a UNSW article.