The Future is Here: Bionic Eye Approved by FDA!

Argus-IIAfter 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.

argusII_1The 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.

ArgusIIArgus 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.

infraredAs 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:


AR Glasses Restore Sight to the Blind

projectglass01As I’m sure most readers are aware, blindness comes in many forms. It’s not simply a matter of the afflicted not being able to see. In fact, there are many degrees of blindness and in most cases, depth perception is limited. But as it turns out, researchers at the University of Yamanashi in Japan have found a way to improve depth perception for the visually challenged using simple augmented reality glasses.

The process involved a pair of Wrap 920 ARs, an off-the-shelf brand of glasses that allow their wearer to interface with their PC, watch video or surf the internet, all the while staying mobile and carrying out their daily chores. The team then recorded images as seen by the wearer from the angle of both eyes, processed it with a quad-core Windows 7 machine, and then merged the images as they would appear to the healthy eye.

AR_glassesEssentially, the glasses perform the task of rendering a scene as it would be seen through “binocular vision” – i.e. in 3D. By taking two images, merging them together and defining what is near and what is far by their relative resolution, they were able to free the wearer’s brain from having to it for them. This in turn allowed them to interact more freely and effectively with their test environment: a dinner table with chop sticks and food in small bowls, arguably a tricky meal to navigate!

Naturally, the technology is still in its infancy. For one, the processed imagery has a fairly low resolution and frame rate, and it requires the glasses to be connected to a laptop. Newer tech will provide better resolution, faster frames per second, and a larger viewport. In addiiton, mobile computing with smartphones and tablets ought to provide for a greater degree of portability, to the point where all the required technology is in the glasses themselves.

posthumanLooking ahead, it is possible that there could be a f0rm of AR glasses specially programmed to deliver this kind of vision correction. The glasses would then act as a prosthesis, giving people with visual impairment an increased level of visual acuity, bringing them one step closer to vision recovery. And since this is also a development which will blurring the lines between humans and computers even more, it’s arguably another step closer to transhumanism!


The Future Is Here: The Braille-Streaming Implant

secondsightImagine, if you will, a revolutionary new technology that sidesteps visual impairment and allows a blind person to process visual information by transmitting braille patterns directly into their retina. Might sound like the stuff of science fiction (a la Geordi LaForge), but thanks to a recent development by the company Second Sight, it is scientific fact. In what was a medical first, researchers tested the device by streaming Braille patterns directly into a patient’s retina, allowing them to read visually with almost 90% accuracy.

“It’s basically a cochlear implant, but for the eyes,” says Thomas Lauritzen, Senior Research Scientist at SMP and lead author of the study. But whereas the cochlear implant circumvents dead hair cells on the inner ear that respond to acoustic signals, the Argus II device circumvents photoreceptors, the cells in the human eye that measure light. By combining a retinal implant with the headset which work together to read the environment and transmit the information to the optical nerve, the device will allow the visually impaired to see color, movement, and objects.

Unfortunately, according to Lauritzen, the new eye device is about 30 years behind the technology of the cochlear implant. Whereas the device is capable of translating larger objects reliably, it has some troubles conveying smaller visual cues, such as letters and short sentences. It was for this reason that Lauritzen and his research team turned to streaming braille instead of normal text. This test bypassed the usual configuration of a camera and the neuroprosthetic implant and sent the electrical information directly into the implant itself. So instead of feeling Braille with their finger tips, the patient was actually able to see the succession of Braille symbols streaming onto their retina.

And the results were incredibly encouraging, with tests being conducted with 50 patients. According to the team’s report: “For this specific visual Braille project, we were able to increase reading speeds by more than 20-fold.” What’s next for the Argus II? Hopefully, FDA approval to begin large-scale production and distribution in the United States and elsewhere. And with time and improvements, it just might result in vision loss being restored for countless people!

Check out a video of the Argus II in action below:

Source: IO9