After more than 20 years in the making, the Argus II bionic eye was finally approved this past February by the Food and Drug Administration for commercial sale in the US. For people suffering from the rare genetic condition known as retinitis pigmentosa – an inherited, degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment and often blindness – this is certainly good news indeed.
Developed by Second Sight, the Argus II is what is known as a “Retinal Prosthesis System” (RPS) that corrects the main effect of retinitis pigmentosa, which is the diminished ability to distinguish light from dark. While it doesn’t actually restore vision to people who suffer from this condition, it can improve their perceptions of light and dark, and thus identify the movement or location of objects.
The Argus II works by using a series of electrodes implanted onto the retina that are wirelessly connected to a video camera mounted on the eyeglasses. The eye-electrodes use electrical impulses transmitted from the camera to stimulate the part of the retina that allows for image perception. By circumventing the parts of the eye effected by the disease, the bionic device is a prosthetic in every sense of the word.
According to Suber S. Huang, director of the University Hospital Eye Institute’s Center for Retina and Macular Disease, the breakthrough treatment is:
[R]emarkable. The system offers a profound benefit for people who are blind from RP and who currently have no therapy available to them. Argus II allows patients to reclaim their independence and improve their lives.
Argus II boasts 20-plus years of research, three clinical trials, and more than $200 million in private and public investment behind it. Still, the system has been categorized by the FDA as a humanitarian use device, meaning there is a “reasonable assurance” that the device is safe and its “probable benefit outweighs the risk of illness or injury.”
Good news for people with vision impairment, and a big step in the direction of restoring sight. And of course, a possible step on the road to human enhancement and augmentation. As always, every development that is made in the direction of correcting human impairment offers the future possibility of augmenting otherwise unimpaired human beings.
As such, it might not be long before there are devices that can give the average human the ability to see in the invisible spectrum, such as IR and ultra-violet frequencies. Perhaps also something that can detect x-rays, gamma ray radiation, and other harmful particles. Given that the very definition of cyborg is “a being with both organic and cybernetic parts”, the integration of this device means the birth of the cybernetic age.
And be sure to check out this promotional video by Second Sight showing how the device works: