Brian Mech, Vice President of Second Sight, has been working on developing the Bionic Eye for 15 years. The Bionic Eye is designed to help people with a genetic disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa. In 2011, the Bionic Eye was approved for use in Europe, and on February 14th of this year the FDA approved the Argus II artificial retina.
1. The Argus II Bionic Eye was named after Argus Panoptes
Second Sight named the device after one of the baddest monsters in Greek Mythology. An all-seeing giant with 100 eyes: some on his head and others on his body. He was called Argus Panoptes because his eyes took shifts so he was watching even when he slept. Argus Panoptes would know if you were sneaking ice cream from the fridge after midnight.
2. The Argus II Bionic Eye System is designed to help those with Retinitis Pigmentosa
100,000 people in the U.S. are partially blind because of a genetic disease that affects their lining at the back of their eye that converts light into electrical signals. This means they have fewer living cells that make good photoreceptors. The lining is called the retina.
3. The Argus II Bionic Eye helps patients see in three different parts
(Photo Credit: Second Sight)
In a clinical trial of 28-year-olds to 77-year-olds, some are able to tell the difference between light and dark because of a new bionic eye implant. The tool that helps them see is in three parts. First, a mini camera on a pair of dark glasses takes images. Second, these images are processed into electric impulses. Third, these impulses are sent to the implanted chip with a wireless receiver. These signals travel along the optic nerve to the brain and the instructions are translated into sight.
4. The performance depends on the software and hardware of the visual processing unit
(Photo Credit: Second Sight)
Two companies, Second Sight and Bionic Vision Australia, have been in the news for successful tests. According to Wired, the key technology is not the strength of the mini-camera capturing the doorway, sidewalk or curb. Instead the performance depends on the software and hardware of the visual processing unit. Doctors would like to improve these two elements so that patients wouldn’t need to undergo frequent surgery to update the performance of the implant. The current limitation is the number of electrodes that can be placed in a single area of eye tissue. Too many electrodes would cause harm to the few remaining retina cells. A bio-compatible case prevents the electrodes from overheating. The electrodes for the eye implant are 3 times as many than implants to interface with the ear.
5. The Bionic Eye won’t cure blindness, but it will change the lives of people
The successful tests do not result in 20/20 vision or even color. However, patients have been able to read number and letters in newspaper headlines though the images they see with the bionic eye are pixelated dots. According to the New York Times, one patient, Barbara Campbell, described her pure joy at being able to see the the outline and contrast of celebrity Diana Ross at a music concert.
6. Doctors in Los Angeles and San Francisco are ready to perform surgery
Technology Review reports, the retail price of the procedure in Europe is $100,000. The price of what it will cost patients in America has not been announced yet. However, doctors in Los Angeles and San Francisco are trained and ready to perform the surgery.