Scientists working on developing a bionic eye are one step closer to making the project a reality, after a breakthrough on artificial vision perception.
The team, led by Associate Professor Michael Ibbotson from The Vision Centre and Australian National University, have found that electrodes implanted on the retina of a living eye can be detected by the brain.
They hope this will lead to further investigation on how artificial electrical signals can be converted to meaningful images in the eye.
“This is a really exciting development,” Associate Professor Ibbotson says.
“The device that’s been created seems to work really well – beyond our expectations.”
The team developed a wafer-thin stimulating device that can be implanted in human and animal eyes. Electrodes from this device are attached to the outer layer of the eyeball, and electric signals are then sent to the optic nerve, which transmits them to the brain.
“We don’t yet know what these signals look like to a human observer, but we can see that they will have an influence on perception because we’ve detected them in the correct parts of the brain,” Associate Professor Ibbotson says.
“Most probably they are phosphenes, which are the swirly patterns you see when you pressed your closed eye.”
He says this research could have far-reaching consequences.
‘Partial restoration of vision’
“As we increase the number of electrodes and add in some electronic signal processing it will theoretically be possible to convert the phosphene blobs into meaningful images and have enough vision to recognise faces and even text.”
The group responsible for the research have recently been granted $42 million from the federal government.
Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Kim Carr, says the research will have enormous benefits.
“The Australian Government’s investment will help us to give and restore sight to thousands of people around the world,” Mr Carr said when awarding the funding.
The money was set aside as a response to the federal government’s 2020 Summit initiative.