Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Look me in the cybereyes

Today, when we speak or write about the cybernetic eyes, we think of something like that.

On the first sight (sic!) there is no mistake that technology has been used for visual augmentation; it’s pretty much obvious that the user is wearing an electronic device.

There is a similar issue with the invasive retinal implants, just like this one.

Briefly: a chip, 3 mm in diameter, 1500 pixel resolution, is implanted beneath the retina, in the proximity of macula lutea. Its task is to restore sight. The trials are conducted on the patients with retinis pigmentosa. On the lab website you can find a few movies with the trial’s participants; at the very best, they regain the ability to recognize simple shapes and human silhouettes; they can even read letters no smaller than the A5 paper sheet. Of course this is an amazing improvement in comparison to the total blindness, but it is still not quite the thing we want the bionic eyes to do, and moreover, we don’t know for how long can the chip be used.

This model does not require the user to wear external camera-glasses, a solution present in the other types of “cybereyes”.

But it’s necessary to wear a source of energy in your pocket, and a cable sticks out of your head, which is also not that comfortable. The future models are planned to employ a subcutaneous power device, just like with the cochlear implants.

In the case of retinal degeneration, however, there might be another solution looming in the future, as discrete as the artificial lens.

A the FENS 2012 conference in Barcelona, which I had the pleasure to attend in July, I’ve listened to an extremely interesting lecture. I think we have a breakthrough in retinal implants and even if this one won’t pan out, a certain thought barrier has been crossed. I’d love it to work. Maybe in twenty or thirty years we’ll have retinal implants as available as LASIK surgery.

This is the link to the final paper.

And this is the pre-release pdf I’ve managed to excavate.

So what is it about? The researchers have cultured the primary rat neurons on a polymer with photovoltaic properties. Just like the ones people use to produce solar power panels. We excite the polymer with light, the neurons spike with activity. Voila. The whole bio-organic hybrid was maintained live for as long as the primary neurons can be maintained in good shape in the cell culture. And it was still working.

The long standing goal is to produce a miniature photovoltaic panel, that will replace the function of the damaged photoreceptors. Without the aid of camera or any need to provide current. Now the researchers are implanting a polymer-covered material to the albino rats with a damaged retina.

There was no results yet from the animal experiment in Barcelona. I wonder if this works; by now, we can’t tell for sure, and I don’t want to encourage false hope.

As you can see however, cybereyes don’t have to be seen.

And the creative sf author should remember just that.

No comments:

Post a Comment